I’m on a train from Washington, DC to New York, currently passing through Philadelphia. We’ll be at New York’s Penn Station in 90 minutes. I just looked up from the book I’m reading on my iPhone and saw a building with a sign on it: Penn Proton Therapy Center. Now I’m writing a blog entry on my iPhone. I don’t feel like spending a couple of dollars on 3G access (I live in Europe, so I’m roaming here) and WiFi hasn’t been installed on this train yet, so I’m writing this in the Notes app instead of directly to my blog, which is hosted in a data center in…er…I have no idea.
Stop and read that again. Only, this time, pretend you are the average human. Remember that the average human does not have access to the Internet and can’t get to this blog. In fact, the average human lacks running water.
This train is traveling at about 80 miles an hour. The only living creatures that travel that fast naturally are birds, and only a couple of them. The hundreds of people riding in comfort surrounded by hundreds of tons of metal and upholstery are propelled by huge amounts of electricity drawn from overhead wires. I don’t know where the electricity is generated, or how, but I imagine there are a number of power plants involved over the course of the trip and the handoffs between them are transparent to me and probably even the driver.
The 14 radios, 3 processors, and 2 cameras masquerading as the handheld device in my hand are arguably a much greater technical marvel. I can see three others without standing up from my seat. I am using mine to listen to music, and I was reading a book. Both the music and book were pulled out of thin air by this device. Oh…and the device, its media, and the train tickets were paid for by money I earned but have never seen. The money, in fact, never existed in physical form.
I don’t know what proton therapy is only because I’m roaming – otherwise I’d already have looked up the definition and/or read the Center’s marketing material. I imagine it involves ripping the structure of the universe apart to create a beam that can treat illness. [Update: it does]
Did Bill O’Reilly seriously say that we don’t understand tides?! Tides?!? Wow. But I digress. [Update: more digression]
My real point is that we live in the future. What is possible, even commonplace, is vastly different for you than someone living even fifty years ago.
It’s worth noting that what is commonplace in your life is also very different from the lives of most people living today. Only one fifth of us live in the developed world, so the remaining 80% are missing a lot of what we take for granted for some very simple reasons. Try undergoing routine surgery without reliable electrical power for example.
This should make you grateful and happy. Waiting through security in an airport should be at least a bit more bearable if you’re reminded that you’re in line for a ride that involves blasting up into the sky to a city’s width worth of altitude and then making 6-second miles continuously until you get where you’re going.
It should also put into context what’s going on elsewhere in the world, where the future hasn’t fully reached them.
If someone visited you from the future, would you maybe hope they’d bring gifts? The cure for cancer or a pill that adds 50 years to your life?
You live in the future. Is there anything you might give to some of those who don’t?