In this increasingly fast-paced world, just how fast is too fast?
When I was much younger, I had watched an episode of Star Trek (Next Generation) that involved a world that had just successfully launched their first warp-capable space vessel. Because of this event, the Enterprise was nearby to witness the test flight and make themselves known to the planet's inhabitants. Rapid technological advances allowed the people of this planet to go from a pre-industrial world made of many nations, to a planet with vehicles capable of faster-than-light travel in the span of about 300 years.
That's a pretty short amount of time when you think about it.
By the end of the episode, the Enterprise is asked to leave the planet for a while so that the society can become accustomed to all the changes that had occurred before the next big adjustment (accepting extra-terrestrial life). This decision was not made lightly by those in power, and the two arguing sides made very good cases about why their world should or should not consider opening relations with the Federation.
Of course, this is a very quick summary of the episode, and I'm not going to talk about how much to a Trek fan I used to be, but it falls in line with many of the issues I've been thinking about regarding the speed of change all over the earth.
The technological advances made by the people here on Earth are incredibly spectacular. Most would have laughed 30 years ago if someone would say that by 2005 the average person in Westernized nations could carry hundreds of hours of music on a device the size of a pocket calculator, have more processing power in their digital watch than the entire Apollo spacecraft, or carry a video conversation in real-time with someone on the opposite side of the planet. These would have been classified as extreme science fiction.
Yet here we are, and then some.
Dozens of nations are now playing catch-up with the so-called "first-world" countries. Technology that we had grown accustomed to over the span of three decades is being delivered by the crate to people who may still worry about a clean water supply or when the next political coup will happen. But the technology they receive is not the basic technologies that we started with ... these people are getting semi-current electronics.
These people will have thin and powerful cell phones without going through first the pager, then the "brick" cell phones. These people will have notebook computers with rich colour screens, without first dealing with dull grey herculean PCs with monochrome monitors (brown and orange being the two colours, of course) and puny hard drives. These people will be connected to a rich internet full of content, without first going through the growing pangs of boring HTML sites made in notepad and tested time and time again in some browser that can't yet handle frames.
I'm not saying that this is a bad thing. It's great that some people will not have to suffer through the now-inconvenient conveniences of the last 30 years. However, I do wonder what effect this will have on these communities. For most of the people on earth, technology has been pretty much consistent for over ten thousand years. There have been little advances here and there, but these could be taken in stride ... people could adapt at their own pace without worrying about what they'll have to learn tomorrow to replace this new technology. Going from a water-powered mill to a hydro-electric dam took over 400 years, yet they're based on the very same principle.
I think it's great that people all over the world are plugging in to the global community. Not only can they learn more about the world around them, but we can learn more about these new cultures and the ideals they follow. My biggest concern is whether they can keep up with the speed of change and not self-destruct.