Radically American
Published on: January 26, 2010
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  • adam garfinkle


    It is by now almost banal to say that we are living in a rapidly changing world, and it can also be misleading: The real challenge is to understand HOW the world is changing, not how fast it is changing. The intellectual compartments we are accustomed to using—society, politics, economics, culture; foreign and domestic; international, national and local; corporate and not-for-profit, private and public—are flowing in and out of one another before our eyes in ways for which we lack firm precedent. They are also doing so on a planetary scale arguably for the first time.

    It may be true, as well, that the frequency of exchanges of all sorts has grown thanks to the technologies associated with the information revolution. I don’t say you’re wrong about that. Even so, we sense that changes in global social dynamics are happening fast not so much because of technology and what it allows, or not just because of that, but because much of what is occurring is unintelligible to us. This reproduces the same false sense of rapidity we experience upon hearing spoken a language we do not understand.

    The analogy to a foreign language is not decorative: We lack an adequate vocabulary for the world into which we are moving. Just as Newton had to invent calculus in order to think coherently about the physics he was contemplating, so we need new language to think coherently about security and peace in our social and political future. We are not entirely helpless in this, however, for history, if carefully parsed, can offer guidance even in times when reality outruns vocabulary.

    I could continue with this, but I won’t, for now. I just want to register a caveat about the speed thesis.

  • Brad Mead

    Personally, I find the most disburing trend in light of your prediction(s) for change is an actue and dwindlwing lack earnestness and humility in the American character.

    Extreme attitudes at both poles of any continuum of disagreement tend to benefit by way of a monopoly of attention. Lacking, is the disposition that mutiple sides of an argument may retain merit on a facet of the problem domain and/or produce a beneficial impact regardless of the socio-politcal and economic preferences of the observer/partcipant.

    To put it another way.. it appears many appreciate the game only for the win and less for the art, practice or enlightenment. To me, it seems we’ve begun to fall in love with hubris and now disdain the cold, tedious and boring process of weighing all sides dispassionately.

    A Mead 🙂

  • David Wollstadt

    If I were advising a young person on career choices today, I think I’d suggest that he learn how to become a plumber or electrician.

  • Chris

    Very well said Mr. Meed. Many times in the last few years I have pondered this very theme. You see, I am currently shoving my way into that proverbial upper middle class. Coincidentally, I am in the field of I.T.. I currently hold the position of Director of Application Development and it is my responsibility to look into my crystal ball and predict what new technologies our company should adopt to remain competitive, and then to make sure they are implemented successfully. However, my heart is no longer wholly invested in my profession as I am in the process of starting my own Computer Forensic practice – to cater to businesses, lawyers and even individuals who find themselves in need of Computer Forensic expertise. (One personal goal is to charge my attorney 50% more per hour then he charges me. ) The point of my post is twofold, first to confirm your assessment that those who wield the most influence today will be reluctant to relinquish it. I have witnessed this reluctance firsthand; I see it in the faces of Lawyers and Corporate executives, my new clients. Well into their fifties and accustomed to being the Alpha male of their professions. Our meetings are not comfortable for them, here they are the masters of their universes, long vested captains of their industries and they find themselves requiring my services. Here I am, thirty five years old, only a lowly bachelors degree to my name. It was just over fifteen years ago I broke from a family tradition of machinists and struck out on a new course, I.T.. I like to think I was able to see the writing on the wall even then. Perhaps it was providence or even just dumb luck that guided me to IT but I find myself at the crossroads of many attractive career paths. The second point is a little more profound, almost a Matrix style apocalyptic fear. At what point will we become completely dependent on the machines? I believe we passed that point of no return long ago. I find myself doing seemingly strange things at times to serve as a reminder that I do not always need to rely on a microchip, trivial things like chopping firewood, using hand tools, taking the stairs instead of an elevator. The capitalist in me is determined to grow my practice to achieve financial independence. The pragmatist in me knows that there may come a point when those who where my clients will be the authors of a backlash against the very technology they are dependent on, yet incapable of mastering.

  • Dr. Horrible

    You had me up until you placed journalists under “learned professionals.”

    Anyone who has spent 30 seconds in a college journalism department or class knows why that’s a ridiculous idea.

    Might be better to describe them as “guild professionals” – obsolete dinosaurs who will hang on longer only by use of political manipulation.

  • Richard Kalwa

    Your argument, if such it is, might be stronger if you presented some examples of how “technological change” is going to replace the need for a heart surgeon, patent lawyer, or English teacher. Just wondering.

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