From Visual Developer Magazine #58, November/December 1999


Hail the Millennium!



Technology has laid the physical world at our feet. We are freer, wealthier, and better educated than at any time in history. If happiness eludes us now, it's nobody's fault but our own.

I was six in 1958, and with Explorer I in orbit on the heels of Sputnik, the world was drunk on the future. "Closer Than We Think" ran in the Sunday funnies, and I devoured every library book I could find with pictures of spaceships, satellites, and monstrous machines that ground across the landscape, leaving gleaming miles of interstate highway in their wake. The future was a place, and I wanted to live there. Why? Because it was Better.

Perhaps the oldest myth to animate the human spirit is that tomorrow will be better. It's what pulled us out of our caves and then our huts and then our grimy, overcrowded cities. For ten thousand years we've relentlessly invented and revised and scolded and reformed, and inch by inch the human condition has improved. Against this progress has stood the same sad refrain sung by the same damned cynics, complaining that everything is a gradual descent into perdition from some ill-defined Golden Age.

Don't buy it. Back in that Golden Age, starvation was the norm, and we practiced human sacrifice and systematic murder and genocide on a scale that makes us all here today look like Mother Teresa. Ignorance, paranoia, and hatred were a sort of world religion. And it's not just the Dark Ages of which I speak. The best I can say for the Fifties is that we were a little more polite to one another—but beneath that brittle shell it was a time of seething hatreds and horrible injustice.

I say all of this because I read history, something almost nobody else seems to do anymore. I also try to keep our expectations in perspective. My solidly middle class great-grandfather thought he was doing well to have running water. Today, even the poorest of American homes has a color TV and a telephone. There remains plenty of poverty on Earth, but it's a far gentler poverty than it was even a hundred years ago, and more people live more comfortably than ever before.

So are we there? Is it really Better today? I think so, not only for the obvious improvement in physical living conditions brought about by technology, but also because we know what the real problems are. It's begun to dawn on ordinary people that what makes us miserable are spiritual hungers and lacks, not physical ones. This is a tremendous victory, and an awesome and underappreciated insight: The forces that impede our happiness are no longer imposed from without, but come from within. Technology has laid the physical world at our feet. We are freer, wealthier, and better educated than at any time in history. If happiness eludes us now, it's nobody's fault but our own.

On December 31, 1999, I will declare that I have finally made it to the future. That night I'll invite my friends over to barbecue, and Carol and I will waltz in the dirt driveway between the cactus and laugh and play corny songs and drink pina coladas and slap a lot of backs. We'll make a bonfire and burn all of our Ed Yourdon books, and perhaps stand for a moment and remember those who believed in the future but didn't live long enough to see it: My father, Uncle Louie, and all the unnamed people who like them helped nerdy young boys believe in themselves and the future too, and in doing so helped make it all happen.

For it really is better now, as we would realize if we would read history more and stop the continual upward revision of our definition of misery. Few of us have all we want. But most of us have all we need. We have achieved the future. We're pointed in the right direction. The rest is—dare I say it?—spiritual engineering.

So bring it on, all of it! Hail the Millennium! The next thousand years are gonna rock!