BOOKCASE : The Meaning of the 21st Century: A Vital Blueprint for Ensuring our Future

• James Martin • Random House • $39.99

James Martin would make fascinating dinner companion. This is the guy who in his book The Wired Society back in the 1970s predicted thing called the internet 25 years before its time. Ten years later in Technology’s Crucible he was at it again warning of Arab terrorists attacking New York.
Now he’s back with thoughtful and thought-provoking examination of the significance of the 21st century. If the past 100 years were time of progress and growth, he says, expect the next 100 years to be time of Transition with capital T. For large-scale changes are converging to rocket us into devastatingly different future.
“Think of the 21st century as deep river canyon with narrow bottleneck at its centre,” he writes. “Think of humanity as river rafters heading downstream. As we head into the canyon, we’ll have to cope with rate of change that becomes much more intense – white-water raft trip with the currents becoming much faster and rougher, time when technology will accelerate at phenomenal rate.”
These converging currents carry such momentum that they can no longer be ignored. For Martin believes we are travelling at breakneck speed into world of extremes: extremes of poverty, pollution and population explosion. Sustainability will no longer be enough. Our children will have to face the very notion of the survivability of our planet. The next generation must find way to control the forces that we and our forebears have unleashed.
Humanity has small window in which to find the answers to what he describes as the 15 key challenges for humanity in the next century. They’re pretty tall order: stuff like healing the planet, polishing off extreme poverty, managing global bio-diversity and ending terrorism rank high on the list. When we’ve done that, how about harnessing mankind’s massive amounts of creativity and enhancing the human body through technology?
Ultimately, though, this is not negative book. Martin believes that just as rapid technological advances have the potential to plunge us into the abyss, so too do they encompass the healing power to save us from the brink of extinction. To his mind, each interconnected set of problems can be matched by an interconnected set of solutions. Here’s hoping we catch on to them in time.
– Ruth Le Pla

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