I was in a coffee shop recently and overheard a young couple discussing whether or not it was morally responsible to bring a child into today's world given all of the global challenges we face.
What's curious about their question and the dark contemporary mood it represents is that in a very measurable way, the world is better off than its ever been.
I'll start with poverty, which has declined more the in the past 50 years than the previous 500. Over the last 50 years, in fact, even while the population on Earth has doubled, the average per capita income globally (adjusted for inflation) has tripled.
We're not just richer than ever before, we're healthier as well. During the past century, maternal mortality has decreased by 90 percent, child mortality has decreased by 99 percent, while the length of the average human lifespan has more than doubled.
As Steven Pinker has lately made clear, since the middle ages, violence on Earth has been in constant decline. Homicide rates are a hundred-fold less than they were when they peaked 500 years ago. So we're not only healthier, we're safer as well.
If your measure of prosperity is tilted towards the availability of goods and services, consider that even the poorest American's today (those below the poverty line) have access to phones, toilets, running water, air conditioning and even a car. Go back 150 years and the wealthiest robber barons couldn't have never hoped for such wealth.
Right now, a Maasai Warrior on mobile phone has better mobile communications than the president did 25 years ago; And, if they're on Google, they have access to more information than the president did just 15 years ago. They are effectively living in a world of communications and information abundance.
Even more impressive are the vast array of tools and services now disguised as free mobile apps that this same Maasai Warrior can access: a GPS locator, video teleconferencing hardware and software, an HD video camera, a regular camera, a stereo system, a vast library of books, films, games and music. Go back 20 years and add the cost of these goods and services together -- you'll get a total well in excess of a million dollars. Today, they come standard with a smart phone.
So this brings us back to the question of our contemporary mood. If this is really the true picture of the world, why are so many of us convinced otherwise?
Turns out there are about a dozen reasons. Alongside my co-author Steven Kotler, I have a new book coming out (Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think) in which we address all of them. There isn't time for that here, but I do want to mention a few.
For starters, the amygdala. Every second our brains are bombarded with a deluge of data, working continuously to sift through and sort the information, trying to tease apart the critical from the casual. And since nothing is more critical to the brain than survival, the first filter most of this incoming information encounters is the amygdala.
The amygdala is the part of the temporal lobe responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate, and fear. It's our early warning system, an organ always on high alert, whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival. So potent is the amygdala's response to potential threats that once turned on, it's almost impossible to shut off, and this is a problem in the modern world.
These days, we are saturated with information. We have millions of news outlets competing for our mind share. And how do they compete? By vying for the amygdala's attention. The old newspaper saw "If it bleeds, it leads" works because the first stop that all incoming information encounters is an organ already primed to look for danger. We're feeding a fiend. Bad news sells because the amygdala is always looking for something to fear.
Compounding this, our early warning system evolved in an era of immediacy, when threats were of the tiger-in-the-bush variety. Things have changed since. Many of today's dangers are probabilistic -- the economy might nose-dive, there could be a terrorist attack -- and the amygdala can't tell the difference. Worse, the system is also designed not to shut off until the potential danger has vanished completely, but probabilistic dangers never vanish completely. Add in an impossible-to-avoid media continuously scaring us in an attempt to capture market share, and you have a brain convinced that it's living in a state of siege and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.
But nothing could be farther from the truth. Today the average citizen is more empowered to change the world than ever before.
A wide range of very powerful exponentially growing technologies (infinite computing, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, robotics, digital medicine, etc.) are now allowing small teams of dedicated individuals to take on the kinds of challenges that were once the sole province of governments. A global communications network has arisen where individuals can problem solve together, like never before. Lastly, thanks to the continual spread of the Internet and smart phones into the developing world, over the next decade, our collective meta-intelligence, is set to expand from 2 billion to 5 billion people on line, adding 3 billion news minds into the global conversation.
Nothing like this has ever happened before in the history of the world. So while I can't tell you if brining a child into this world is the morally-responsible to do, I can say that the future, much like the present, is going to be a whole lot better than you think.
For more information, and to learn about the four forces driving us towards an age of abundance, please come visit us at www.AbundanceTheBook.com.