What are you optimistic about?

January 2, 2007

The 2007 Edge Question is

What Are You Optimistic About? Why?

160 people answered that question and their answers can be found here. I was particularly taken with Paul Saffo‘s (Technology Forecaster; Consulting Associate Professor, Stanford University) response in which he says that Humankind Is Particularly Good At Muddling:

I am a short-term pessimist because the Millennium is still clouding our collective thinking and may yet inspire the addled few to try something truly stupid, like an act of mega-terror or a nuclear exchange between nations. But I am a long-term optimist because the influence of the Millennium is already beginning to fade. We will return to our moderate senses as the current uncertainties settle into a comprehensible new order. I am an unshakable optimist because in its broadest strokes, the future will be what the future has always been, a mix of challenges, marvels and endless surprise. We will do what we have always done and muddle our collective way through. Humankind is particularly good at muddling, and that is what makes me most optimistic of all.

Other contributors include:
Artist; Composer; Recording Producer: U2, Talking Heads, Paul Simon; Recording Artist
And Now The Good News

Which brings me to my main reason for optimism: the ever-accelerating empowerment of people. The world is on the move, communicating and connecting and coalescing into influential blocks which will move power away from national governments with their short time horizons and out into vaguer, more global consensual groups. Something like real democracy (and a fair amount of interim chaos) could be on the horizon.
The Internet is catalyzing knowledge, innovation and social change, and, in manifestations such as Wikipedia, proving that there are other models of social and cultural evolution: that you don’t need centralised top-down control to produce intelligent results.

Curator, TED Conference
Systemic Flaws in the Reported World ViewParadoxically, one of the biggest reasons for being optimistic is that there are systemic flaws in the reported world view. Certain types of news — for example dramatic disasters and terrorist actions — are massively over-reported, others — such as scientific progress and meaningful statistical surveys of the state of the world — massively under-reported.

Psychologist, Harvard University; Author, The Blank Slate
The Decline of Violence

Cruelty as popular entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, genocide for convenience, torture and mutilation as routine forms of punishment, execution for trivial crimes and misdemeanors, assassination as a means of political succession, pogroms as an outlet for frustration, and homicide as the major means of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. Yet today they are statistically rare in the West, less common elsewhere than they used to be, and widely condemned when they do occur.

Psychologist; Director, Quality of Life Research Center, Claremont Graduate University; Author, Flow
We Are Asking And Answering

I am optimistic for the simple reason that given the incredible odds against the existence of brains that can ask such questions, of laptops on which to answer them, and so on — here we are, asking and answering!

It’s a treasure trove of wonderful stuff (hat tip TED Blog) and got me wondering just what I’m optimistic about in 2007. How about you?