The luckiest generation of all
The greatest sin in 2999 might be the taking of selfies
HAVE you ever wondered what life might be like at the end of the third millennium? In 1000 years? How will we work and how will society be organised? What will we eat in the year 2999?
Go back 1000 years to the end of the first millennium. Society was tribal or feudal. The Renaissance and the Age of Reason had yet to propel science and medicine to prominence. We hadn't yet fully explored the planet, let alone understood our place within the broader cosmology of the universe. The framework for existence was defined by tribal order imposed by the church, by the monarchy, by the dynasty, by someone else. Food was essentially meat, dairy and grain. Alcohol existed in many societies but the addictive qualities of nicotine, cocaine and sugar were then either completely unknown or were merely unpopular.
Clothing for most was at best sackcloth or animal skin. A millennium ago, our Anglo heritage was perilously positioned between Norse and Norman invasion. Although perhaps that’s what gave English the plasticity it required to conquer the earth over the following 1000 years. Elements of today’s common law were in situ at the end of the first millennium, as indeed was music, art and architecture, which survive today in ruins or as influences on later more spectacular works.
For most, life expectancy was short — perhaps 50 — and the tribal realm was extraordinarily limited, perhaps a 20km radius from where most were born. And yet I am sure that life for many on a day-to-day basis was filled with the stuff of life that we well recognise: love and sex; commitment and marriage; disputes and squabbles; children and discipline; life and death; success and failure; betrayal and jealousy; fear and courage.
And so if we could be magically transported forward 1000 years from today to the end of this millennium, what would we recognise? It is likely that we would be unable to converse with those who inhabit the Australian continent in 1000 years. They might not even recognise the term “Australia”. The political system and social organisation will have altered to reflect the prevailing values of the time. In our time and probably since the renaissance we have witnessed the progressive democratisation of Western society.
Which is all well and good in a world where resource limits keep expanding into newly discovered corners of the globe. But over the next 1000 years, the way we think might be shaped by the gnawing reality that our resources are limited. This might mean survival requires the subjugation of individuality and the cultivation of a society that secures the interests of the tribe.
The greatest sin in 2999 might be something along the lines of today’s taking of selfies, which place the individual at the centre of activity. In the fullness of time the idea that “it’s all about me” might be viewed as a quirky aberration that formed during an era of unrestrained growth and prosperity. Such a world might support restrictive political and cultural institutions like a church or some other theistic belief system that preaches eternal damnation for noncompliance. Then again, I might be guilty of chauvinistically viewing both the past and the future as being equally bleak. And in which case this would mean that we today are in fact the luckiest generation in 2000 years. Bernard Salt is a Melbourne corporate adviser, keynote speaker and author; [email protected]tralian.com.au