We used to refer to the West as the free world, as opposed to the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, China etc. And there was a period around 1945-2000 when many people in the West achieved an exceptionally high level of freedom, both financially but also in terms of personal integrity.
We did not get stopped-and-searched at the airports. Bank accounts and private correspondence was a private matter. The tax agency and other authorities stayed within a reasonable distance. Prosecutors ‘ decisions were required to intercept and violate citizens’ personal privacy. And freedom of speech had far fewer restrictions than today.
Society was based on meritocracy. Talent, knowledge and experience were awarded. And it suited well in a society where research and progress were guiding principles. For a while we made ever-greater technological advances, but after the lunar landing and the introduction of commercial jet aircrafts, the development stopped a bit.
The progress we see today stems from data and information technology, but even there, it seems that the computers are not noticeably faster anymore, and the apps in our phones no longer solve any major everyday problems.
After all, does IT really help us that much? The moon landings happened with less computing power than a modern smartphone. In the past, we handed over a stack of payment cards to the post cashier, and she made the transactions and received your money. You can now do all this from home, but you also have to add all the numbers and manage the administration.
We are all connected through social media, but we feel that the background noise and people’s intrusive opinions sometimes interfere. Data and IT development may be more about pleasure and escapism, than about solving real problems such as the light bulb, the washing machine, dishwasher, the car and the vacuum cleaner.
Our passenger planes are still strikingly similar to those created in the late 1960s, some 50 years ago. Note that it took just over 40 years between the Wright’s brothers first aircraft of wood and canvas – and the first fighter jet, Messerschmitt Me 262. The celebrated innovator Elon Musk’s electric cars and rockets are also not based on any revolutionary technology. Rather, it becomes an embarrassing reminder of how slow the development is nowadays.
We also note that many well-known and celebrated people are increasingly lacking in talent and background knowledge. Attitude, loose opinions, fashion, trends are more important than facts. In discussions, it is common to attack the sources instead of the phenomenon. Even in schools, we no longer dig as deep, the education is becoming more shallow. Violence and crime in the streets and squares are neglected and reduced. The world is becoming an increasingly witless and unpleasant place.
Is this possibly the beginning of the post-meritocratic world? The era after the information and knowledge society?
If evolution and progress cease, then the God of Science will fall from its throne. Thus, education and knowledge are not as important either. Then maybe it is more important to have the right hairstyle and clothes, as well as opinions based on mass movements and attitude than real facts?
A few brave continue to build on the real world, and sometimes we read that the mystery of fusion energy is soon resolved, etc., but they are no longer heroes. Instead, many of us want to live a simpler life, clean out all the plastic from the kitchen, sell the car and avoid air travel. It is a grayer, more restrained and unhappy world we see. Where loneliness, anxiety and the lost faith in the future create a void that we cannot fill.