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1/30/ 2007

The Next Level

An Essay on Perspective
by Dan Armstrong

"Let us imagine the whole history of humankind crowded into twelve hours, and that we are living at noon of the long human day. Let us, in the interest of moderation and convenient reckoning, assume that we have been upright and engaged in seeking out inventions for only two hundred and forty thousand years. Each hour of our clock will represent twenty thousand years, each minute three hundred and thirty-three and a third years. For over eleven and a-half-hours nothing was recorded. We know of no persons or events; we only infer that man was living on earth, for we find his stone tools, bits of his pottery, and some of his pictures of mammoths and bison. Not until twenty minutes before twelve do the earliest vestiges of Egyptian and Babylonian civilization begin to appear. The Greek literature, philosophy, and science, of which we have been accustomed to speak as ancient, are not but seven minutes old. At one minute before twelve, Lord Bacon wrote his Advancement of Learning, and not half a minute has elapsed since man first began to make the steam engine do his work for him." -J.H. Robinson, The Ordeal of Civilization, (1926).

Because of the stretch of time and the incredible acceleration of civilization in the last one hundred years, it is difficult to completely absorb what it means that we represent the crown of human creation. Some ten thousand years ago humans began a steady conversion from nomadic hunter-gathers to planted agrarians. The evolution of those seed communities into cities then city-states, then industrial nations, and today's tense alliance of those nations is the steady process of human civilization. The sum of this process, all cultures, all literature, all science, throughout recorded history, is presently available and coming to life in the multi-media cyberspace of our maturing global community. We have an articulate electronic mirror of ourselves and our history. And with it, we have become something new. We have become a community with a collective self-conscious. Three hundred and fifty human generations stand stacked one upon the next and the grand perspective reveals the outline of our temporal and spatial human horizon. What can be seen is both stunning and frightening.

Using historian J.H. Robinson's time scale, the last ten seconds of human advance have exploded with a wealth of creativity. Nine seconds ago, we split the atom. Five seconds ago, a man walked on the moon. Three seconds, home computers. Two seconds, super conductors and laser discs. One second, a Worldwide Web. All of this has happened so rapidly and with such diversity it is difficult to grasp what we have and what it tells us about ourselves.

Our base of knowledge and empirical facts increase as quickly as the capacity of each new generation of computer chips. With each day we further detail every branch of scientific study, each field of literature, every realm of history. So much so, and with such a timely collapse upon the present, that for the first time humankind has the perspective to clearly evaluate the imprint of civilization on planet Earth and to truly judge "what man hath wrought."

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