Monday, 5 December 2011
Lost generation: N M Browne
Am I of the first generation to know less than my children? I first used a computer in 1985, used an early version of the internet in ’87. Even so I am an ignorant visitor to the digital age, irritating my children with my idiosyncratic approach, my inefficiency and impatience with instructions.
Our society has reached a degree of complexity that many of us don’t understand how it works. Indeed I don't even know how much I don't know, just how much a problem in an oil well in the Middle East directly impacts my ability to buy coffee in Richmond. One slight blip with the National Grid and we cannot cook or wash, or do our jobs. The failure of any one part of the system could paralyse the whole and as someone or other said we are never more than three meals from riot.
The point of this ramble is this: complex societies when they fail, fail fast and in the past they have failed often. I like to write about such times, moments which straddle the rise and fall of one culture or another: the departure of the legions from Britain, the coming of the Angles; the moments when chaos descends. Fruitful as they are for stories however I’m not sure I want to live in such times and we may just be on the brink.
There is a well known article by Brian Ward- Perkins which suggests that once Rome with all its administration and advanced technological specialisation left these shores, the economy slumped to below its pre Roman level and took three hundred years to recover. According to Professor Ian Morris of Stanford until around 1700 societies have tended to reach a degree of complexity and then spectacularly imploded. The West has far exceeded that ceiling, have we finally reached a new one? Will my generation straddle a third world, that of the decline and fall of Europe? Tin bath anybody?