Faster – Higher – Further that is our way of thinking. We live in a time in which all our progress gets towards a certain direction. We want to go faster, as fast as possible; we want to go higher, as high as possible; and we want to go further, to new horizons.
This attitude seems to be deeply rooted in the history of humankind. However, it was not always like this.
Lucy, one of the oldest human remains ever found in Ethiopia, is supposed to be 3.2 million years old. Taking this as an estimation for the beginning of our existence, we lived a long time without going much faster, higher or further.
This attitude goes back to the beginning of the 18th and 19th Century. With the invention of the steam engine, a new era began. Prof. Thomas Hylland Eriksen, a social anthropologist of the University in Oslo and contributor to the discussion of global warming and globalization through many different published books, calls this new age “the Era of constant acceleration”. As we can see in his works “Overheating: An anthropology of Accelerated Change” and “An overheated world: “An anthropological history of the early 21st Century”, the behavior of humankind nowadays is very much influenced by the faster, higher, further attitude. Three examples to stress the differences in this age can easily be found.
If we first look at the demographic history of the human race, we see it’s been pretty constant for quite a long time. From Lucy, over three million years ago, up to the beginning of the 19th Century, the population never increased over 1 billion people. During the 19th century, the population doubled from 1 billion to 2 billion. So, in one century we experienced the same increase we experienced in millions of years before. However, during the 20th Century, the acceleration truly happened, and today we are seven and a half billion people and counting. Of course, the population growth is predicted to slow down in the long run, but that is not going to happen anytime soon.
A second example is energy consumption. With the invention of the steam engine 200 years ago, a technological marathon was triggered and the energy consumption rapidly increased. Only over the past 50 years, the energy consumed by the world population tripled. The highest increases can be observed for oil, gas and coal, whereas comparable clean energies as renewable or nuclear, despite their disadvantages, did not change that much. This need for more and more energy seems like a hunger, a hunger that increased in unimaginable ways in this very young 21st century, and that is hard to say where is headed.
Due to the developments up to today, we can make a prediction: in the last 200 years, we used almost all the resources the world produced in 200 million years before What will we do when these resources will be over? Wait for 200 million years so that they are restored?
One last example for this era of acceleration is connectivity. We live in a connected world. The internet plays a major role here, but it has not been so long that the internet became a matter of public usage. Over the last 10 years, the number of internet users increased from 1 billion to an amount of 3 billion, which equals almost half of the worlds’ population.
Let’s pretend half of the world population is constantly connected. This has, of course, social and economic consequences. The era of acceleration, our hunger, our desire to go faster, higher and further can be observed in all areas of human life.
In our social life, we observe that people are more and more depended on their status on the online community. Particularly in economic terms, the attitude of higher, faster and further becomes dangerous.
We are using up all the resources our planet has created and the question of what will happen in the future remains unanswered. Governments are more interested in increasing numbers of their GDP than finding long-lasting and sustainable alternatives.
But are there sustainable alternatives? Over the last 200 or 300 years, we could observe a marathon of technological inventions.
For centuries, it seemed impossible for humans to move faster than 50 km/h. In 1769 the first steam-powered car was invented and it became possible to go faster than ever. In the early 1800s the steamship became a means of public transportation and suddenly the other side of the Atlantic did not seem to be the end of the world anymore.
And then the biggest step of all. In 1903 the Wright Brothers proved wrong the worldwide saying “The Sky is the limit” by creating the first airplane ever used. Humankind started conquering the sky and that was still not enough. Within the century humankind set a new goal, a dream if you wish: Leaving this planet. In 1969 Neal Armstrong realized this dream by landing on the moon.
Observing how far we have come, we see that nothing seems to be impossible if we truly set our mind to it and put all our energy in the realization of our dreams. Yes, we face a shortage of essential resources such as oil and gas, even water.
Yes, we are running out of spaces to grow food or build housing for our people in some areas of the world.
And yes, we seem to lose control over this acceleration that is going on.
However, we already went beyond the sky, so the only questions remaining is: where are we going next?