Powerful Essay by Steven Johnson
A powerful essay written by Steven Johnson, we’re living the dream; we just don’t realize it.
Over the past two decades, what have the US trends been for the following important measures of social health: High school dropout rates, college enrollment, juvenile crime, drunken driving, traffic deaths, infant mortality, life expectancy, per capita gasoline consumption, workplace injuries, air pollution, divorce, male-female wage equality, charitable giving, voter turnout, per capita GDP and teen pregnancy?
The answer for all of them is the same: The trend is positive. Almost all have improved by more than 20% over the past two decades. Many Americans are convinced that ‘half of marriages end in divorce’: which is not the case since the early 80s, they have declined by almost a third.
Even though the world’s population has doubled over the past 50 years, the percentage living in poverty has declined by 50% over that period. Positive trends in our social health are coming from a complex network of forces [vs big-bang tech breakthroughs].
No one takes out a prime-time ad campaign to tout the remarkable decrease in air pollution that we have seen over the past few decades. Curmudgeons, doomsayers, utopians and declinists all have an easier time getting public relations than those who celebrate slow and steady improvement.
In the long run, media bias against incremental progress may be more damaging than any bias the media display toward the left or right. The media are heavily biased toward extreme events and they are slightly biased toward negative events though in their defense, that bias may be a reflection of the human brain’s documented propensity to focus more on negative information.
We underestimate the amount of steady progress that continues around us and we misunderstand where that progress comes from. We should celebrate stories of progress, not to rest on our laurels but so we can inspire the next generation to build on that success.