Everything changes but people

Over thousands of years we have learned that people never change but that our culture and circumstances – technology, buildings, tools, communications, transportation, etc. – change constantly.

Yet when people make big plans (or worse, write big laws or found ambitious non-profits) they get things backwards: from their good intentions and future vision they extrapolate a world in which people are wiser, nicer, and more enlightened, and from their focus on today’s problems they imagine a world where these problems will need to be actively addressed for decades to come.

It just isn’t so.

You can read the earliest written history we have and see that people are exactly the same: we love and hate, are selfish and selfless, buy and sell, and grumble about taxes. The interpersonal narrative of any ancient literature could trivially be reset in our modern world as a recognizable and relevant human story.

On the other hand, our cultural context is changing constantly. It was less than 70 years from the Wright brothers’ first flight to landing on the moon. For most people, it’s been less than 20 years since they heard of the Internet, and less than 7 years since they got a smart phone and started carrying the Internet in their pocket. And today they can’t remember life before that.

In less than a century railroads re-shaped the world; cities were redesigned, different foods and products were available for purchase, distance was reimagined and people changed where and how they lived. Just decades later the automobile century started changing it all again. Today autonomous cars, flying drones and ubiquitous mapping, sensors, and communications are about to repeat the cycle.

And still we write laws and draw up plans to address an extrapolated vision of today that will never come to be.

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