Thursday, June 5, 2008

Everything changes and some things don’t change at all

It could be called the new divide. The revelation of an extraterrestrial civilization would change our entire perspective about life. It would cause massive shifts in science, technology, education, economics, politics, religion and philosophy. For those on the leading edge of the information age there would be a seismic quake that would set everything into question. But how would the revelation impact a farmer in China? What would they do the day after First Contact? Or the week after First Contact? Or the year after First Contact? Probably the same thing they did before. They will work the fields, bring in a crop and try and make ends meet. They might be impacted by the economic whirlwinds that would be created by First Contact. But largely their day to day lives would not change at all. This is the new divide. What will happen when some groups of people go through paradigm explosions and others merely watch it on TV? Will entire segments of human kind speed up into hyper knowledge and others stay behind? What will that do to the world economy? How will it impact political structures?

There will be a rapid acceleration of learning. Some people will have to tackle new concepts immediately. Physicists will probably be on the front line. Most of the sciences will experience this hyper learning syndrome. It may be tough for some people to cope. What will that do to the sciences? And on the flip side, will we experience an even greater digital divide? The educated will be forced to learn and adapt. What will that do to the uneducated? There is already a great gulf developing between those with access to education and technology and those without. The new divide could cause serious problems in our society.

It isn’t just a sociological problem, but also a psychological one. Imagine how people will feel when their entire notion of life and being has changed and yet they still need to feed the kids, mow the lawn and fill the car up with gas. We’ll be moving in two worlds at once: Before First Contact and After First Contact.

I think it’s clear that After First Contact there will be a period of disturbance that will be quite troubling. There will probably be economic turmoil, religious hysteria, and maybe chaos enough to lead to war. Will we survive First Contact?

That is why there needs to be a tight control over information. It will be argued for decades, but without some regulation of information flow we could quite literally destroy everything we have built. Economies could collapse, systems of science and politics could be torn down. Our civilization is built on a foundation of everything that has gone before us. It is carefully constructed through the hard work, toil and sweat of millions of people before us. If we allow a torrent of new information to rush into our world we could wipe that foundation away in a very short time. I think it is truly the biggest threat we face with First Contact. Unless we control information and contact very carefully we could wind up losing everything we have.

The idea of a new divide leads to another thought: All boats can rise in a gentle tide. If we pay attention to each other we can make sure First Contact will benefit the entire human race. This could be a moment of great spiritual awakening. We might realize how small and fragile our planet is and how much all humans have in common. This could bring out the best in us. It could ultimately lead to a kinder, gentler world. That won’t happen if we can’t survive the first tumultuous years and probably decades. We will need strong, thoughtful leadership at the national and world level. We’ll have to trust world government to make decisions on a much greater scale than we have in the past. The new divide will be impossible to prevent. The best we can hope is to survive it and grow stronger in the process.

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