We are currently living in the second Information Age that humans have experienced. The first one happened back in the 15th century when a man named Gutenberg created a device called the printing press. It allowed for the mass production of text and with it, the spreading of information. Before this invention, books were rare and expensive since they were hand written for the few people that had the ability to read and write. The mass produced books lowered the price and increased the amount of written works in the market.
The current Information Age began with the creation and cultural acceptance of the Internet. Since you are reading this right now, you’re probably at least slightly aware of the Internet and some of the amazing things that it can do.
I’d like to take just an extra moment to be in awe at how amazing the Internet is. You now have a voice capable of reaching an audience that makes up over a third of the people on your planet. Seriously, you posting a blog or commenting on a video can potentially be seen by 3 billion people!
At the beginning of the Industrial Age, we conquered the electron and can now manipulate it to work for us. The Information Age was made possible by another of our conquests: the photon. Manipulating electrons allowed us to send signals through metal wires at very fast speeds, connecting far away humans so that they could communicate in “real time.” Of course this wasn’t truly “real time” because the electrons took time to travel through the wires.
Conquering the photon meant that we no longer had to use wires. Photons can be transmitted through the air at 100 times the speed of electrons. Now we can send a signal up to space and have it bounce back from a satellite in a shorter period of time than sending an electron down a wire. Our “real time” communication is able to travel at the fastest speed possible in our universe; we conquered light.
Not only can we now communicate at our universal speed limit, but we have created a cache of information so vast and supported by so many networks that it cannot ever be taken down. You currently have instant access to all the information that you would ever want and more than you could ever learn. Humans are now smarter than we have ever been and we can learn all of it while laying in bed, wrapped up in blankets.Not only are we smarter than we have ever been before, but we are also the most self-aware society that has ever existed. Before the Information Age, it was a lot easier to hide things, especially as a government. Take, for example, the revolutions and assassinated leaders of South America during the 1980’s. If you tried to talk about those things then, people would call you a conspiracy theorist and discount everything you say. Now, you can’t hide anything. Everything is being recorded and shared for the rest of the world to see.The greatest gift of the Internet is a new, level playing ground. Finally, there exists a realm where all humans are exactly equal. No one starts out with higher power on the Internet because you are just one of the 3 billion people online. This is the most empowering part of the Information Age: anyone can make a difference, all you need to do is try.
Many older people who grew up before the Information Age see the news reports of all the violence and sadness that takes place in the world and they think, “This is the worst time to be alive.” Really, that’s a phrase that I have heard repeatedly when discussing racism, sexism, class separation, police brutality, and other awful things covered by the media.
I would argue that these terrible things have been happening for a long time but there has not been as much coverage on those issues in the past. Now is the time for us to use the news coverage and our awareness to get rid of the atrocities that we see on every level. Our species is so interconnected and we are only now realizing it.
Although the Information Age comes with a lot of good in order to boost progress, it also comes with some negative aspects. Our brains have limited storage space and the flood of information that we receive can really bog down our brains. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, I have tons of basketball players and song lyrics bogging down my brain. But with so much information, as well as a constantly refreshing source of new information from social media, it is easy to see this life in a very narrow context.
So much new is always happening that a few years ago feels like a lifetime, and a few generations feels like an eternity. A lot of you probably think an event like World War II happened a long time ago; compare that to the age of the universe or even the age of life and it doesn’t seem long at all.
Our progress has been accelerated so fast that we’ve lost touch with ourselves in a greater context. We need to slow down and zoom out to see what we are and how we got here. Firstly, so that you can be proud of yourself: look what we made!
You are a collection of cells made up of a collection of atoms that has the ability to think and change the world from which you came! But we also need to remember how we got here. We are the species that learned to walk upright, socialize, and use our intelligence to survive.
Today, we sit and stare at screens with our necks tilted forward and our cores disengaged. We feel lonely when we are in a room full of people because we aren’t talking with people we already know. We react to advertisements of fear and sex and will be damned if someone calls us wrong.