Sunday, 31 July 2016

Civilisation winding down?

The pace of progress our civilisation has made over the last decades is impressive and incomparable with any other period of well-researched history. Mould-breaking developments have been made for instance in medicine, engineering, information technology and have left positive marks on our everyday lives.

Thanks to improvement in information exchanges and growing availability and affordability of long-distance fast transport, the world has virtually shrunk. Places out of reach a few decades ago seem now close at hand. Day-to-day unlimited communication with people is now not confined only to those who surround us. Those processes, as I notice, do not have “ever-expanding” character. We seem to be falling victim to them, or they are self-reversing. Just take a look.

Smartphones are the essential tool of information exchange for today’s youngsters, yet for many they have become the prevalent means of communication with the rest of the world. The quite frequent sight of a group of young people all staring at their phones instead of talking to one another is just one of bleak proofs of excessive dependence on technology.

Nearly any place on earth can be reached by air transport within 24 hours, and plane journeys are affordable for masses, yet there is a growing number of places being a no-go areas for tourists; places which a few years ago used to be popular destinations: Crimea, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, some Greek islands besieged by immigrants from Middle East just to name a few. Though Poles’ horizons have broadened, their holiday plans have been altered by new global threats, thus Baltic sea shore, despite cold water, changeable weather, wild crowds and sky-high prices of everything a tourist needs, is again the preferable holiday destination. In 1990s Poles would go to the seaside because overseas resorts were out of their reach financially or because they were daunted by the unknown exotic places. Today the seaside is a safer place (with improved tourist infrastructure one needs to admit).

Two years ago, as I roamed around Germany, I did not take into account I could become a victim of terrorist attack in a shopping mall or restaurant. Paris, Munich, Nice until recently used to have all makings of a safe place for tourists and residents. Terrorism is not an entirely new phenomenon in Europe. Munich was attacked during Olympic Games in 1972. Madrid commuter trains were blown up in 2004, London public transport vehicles in 2005. Yet the frequency of attacks and profiles or terrorists have changed. Today we do not witness Al-Kaida taking revenge for military intervention in Afghanistan. Today secret services do not observe terrorists collectively planning an attack together. Today’s fanatic killer is a young brain-washed male on a lonely, unaided mission to murder possibly many people before he dies martyr.

Societies are becoming less tolerant, I wonder whether they will become less outgoing. Will fear of and dislike for the others become a factor keeping people inside walls of their homes?

After the financial tsunami in 2008 many thought the new economic order will change workings of the world. In fact little has changed. Economies have ridden out the storm although one should be far from declaring they are doing well; had they been, interest rates would have been jacked up. Yet the societal change might be imminent. To keep going, people need to earn and spend money; produce and exchange services, yet who how flows between economic actors go no longer is a subject of economic debate, it has become more about politics and social science. From the economic point of view if in a developed economy there are low-paid jobs domestic workers are unwilling to take up, such gap is filled with migrants from less developed countries being a motivated, cheap labour force which moves the economy forward. From the social or political standpoints, migrants are becoming an unwanted element, regardless of their impact on economic growth and well-being of the whole society.

The ongoing social change is reflected in political choices and the victory of PiS in Poland last year is not the most glaring example. Donald Trump’s dreadful popularity in the United States and support for Brexit in the United Kingdom fill me with far more uncertainty regarding future.

I fear that the world is heading towards isolation, on micro and macro scale. Demise of bonds between humans is already perceptible. Decades ago people had a few close friends and had closer (though often not ideal) relationships with families. Today people have hundreds of acquaintances (a good measure is a number of connections on social networks) but despite this not seldom feel lonesome.

Besides, for most of July I felt too comfortably, too carefree, at times lethargic or numb. That state has given way to some sort of anxiety, a gut feeling something bad might afflict me personally in the close future. Hope it is just a mild version of mid-summer blues caused by to humid air ;-)

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