We are now at the scale of current events: changes that have occurred within your own lifetime. Though the time-scale is short, there is plenty to discuss, as culture and technology are changing more rapidly than ever before. Change itself is a major theme, as some people embrace it and others find themselves feeling alienated. Chapter 1 is perhaps the most difficult chapter to write and read objectively, because this is our temporal home land. Everyone has an opinion about the world around us today!
The chapter opens with the development of internet technology, from the world wide web to mobile big data. Web technology is arguably the single most important development in this chapter, as cyberspace creates a whole new environment for human interaction. Networking has transformed the lives of individuals, global institutions, and all echelons of relationships in between.
From there, the discussion turns to geopolitics. The political world map has undergone a tectonic shift, from the bipolar US / USSR tension to a four-quartered world influenced chiefly by the US, EU, Russia, and China. The Islamic world continues to command global attention as one of the least stable regions. In this century, it has been the site of populist revolutions and the endless War on Terror. Financial crises have swept the globe with unprecedented regularity in the last few decades. Global warming has recently become a hot topic in international discourse. Whatever you believe about climate change, you can’t deny that the debate looms large. This chapter will explore the causes and effects of these world headlines.
One of humanity’s worst new enemies is the HIV virus. The AIDS epidemic came at a very interesting crossroads in time. Smallpox had just been eradicated. The science of molecular biology was just getting to the point where it could help fight viruses on their own terms. Personal morals and family life were going through explosive reinvention. AIDS dampened the sexual revolution while bringing the gay civil rights movement to mainstream attention.
The chapter closes with a discussion of the gaps between today’s living generations. Longer-term trends such as industrialization and the sexual revolution were already introduced in Chapter 2, but technology and norms are changing so quickly now that today’s children have a different life experience from their parents. There has also been quite an economic shift in the last few decades. The nature of education and the workplace, and people’s relationships to time and money, are markedly different from one generation to the next. In these last few decades, social discourse has been heavily influenced by identity politics on the left and nationalism and conspiracism on the right.
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