Small Saturday observation: World change and an aging humanity

July 16, 2022

A small thing for Saturday: 

There will be 8 billion people alive on this planet by the end of this year; a max human population of 10.4 billion will be reached by 2086; next year, there will be more Indians than Chinese in the world; these and other findings and projections in the new UN world population report, reported on here.

Eight billion. When I came into this movie, there were only 4 billion--3.6 billion in 1969, the year I was born, but the first number I remember hearing, early in school, was 4 billion. The world has grown twice as populous in my lifetime, and tremendously richer, among other things.

Maybe the intensity of the changes across my life goes some way to explaining why I feel so often out of step as I grow older, and why I see others also out of step. Once, age meant that you had spent more time dealing with the same problems again and again--your habits were useful because the material they dealt with did not change so much; now, it means you wake up every morning and have to reacquaint yourself to an acceleratingly new world. And habits become a hindrance. 

Put it this way: the process of "becoming an adult" used to mean entering into the complexities of the world, and if not "mastering" those complexities, at least taking some responsibility for curating and sustaining them. And we did it once--when we entered adulthood. But now, isn't the case that the complexities of the world require re-acquaintance, and re-mastering, such as we can, year after year after year? That's exhausting.

Humanity has probably never changed at the pace we are changing now, and have been for the past half-century, the past century. Will we continue to change at this pace? It's unclear. Demographically we won't; from now until humanity's max (at least as long as we're confined to this planet), we'll only add 25% to the population, not another 100%. But will we continue to change in accelerating ways socially? Politically? Culturally? 

The acceleration of change, and its effect on adults, who think (or would like to think) the world when they're 20 is the way the world still is when they're 50, is under-appreciated. And given that we're moving rapidly to becoming a fundamentally middle-aged world--a process that's already largely accomplished across the "developed" world--the challenge of dealing with change.

TL;DR: be nice to people older than you; in many ways they're like castaways, washed up the shores of a Brave New World every morning.