Beyond the Digital Revolution: The Need for Militant Optimism

Later I reflected on how I should have responded.

First, politics—which has now come to infect all aspects of our lives—isn’t a rational response to reality. It’s partially about currying social favor with desired cohorts; but, worse, it’s emotional pathology.

In The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Wilhelm Reich wrote that politics can be the outward manifestation of personal emotional problems. Instead of working on our own issues, some instead work them out on society at large. (Sound familiar?)

We’re living through a moment when this phenomenon is vivid. The unease among elites of the first world, the palpable emotional distress of our friends, the media’s daily two minutes of hate, the social media flash mobs, the tribalism, the way every aspect of our lives has become political.

Good thing breakthroughs in the human condition happen outside of politics. History is the record of political failure. Progress is the march of science and technology.

Just think of the past 100 years: mass communication, penicillin, refrigerators, computing, commercial air travel, cheap birth control, PCs, the internet, smartphones, gene sequencing, fracking—altogether producing more human freedom and wealth than wars or laws.

And yet today we’re prisoners of unrelenting pessimism. We won the revolution, but it never really ended, and we’re still living with its unfolding consequences. Twenty-five years of disruption have been difficult to digest. Especially when the media practitioners who shape our perceptions live in existential dread of losing their jobs in the digital typhoon inundating their obsolete world.

How do we shed the pessimism that surrounds us?

Start by recognizing we have so much cause for optimism. Even more so than when Jane and I started WIRED to cover the Digital Revolution. Today individuals using new technologies are fomenting no fewer than five revolutions:

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1. The neo-biological revolution is already curing, improving, and extending life.

2. The energy revolution—nuclear, fracking, solar—is making the good life possible for more people around the planet.

3. The blockchain allows friction-free transactions between not just financial institutions but all people and devices needing to communicate with one another. Imagine capping the social media monopolies by reclaiming our data.

4. Space. The sci-fi future of working and living in space is happening with each SpaceX and Blue Origin launch.

5. Augmented intelligence. Not “artificial,” but how Doug Engelbart envisioned our relationship with computers: AI doesn’t replace humans. It offers idiot-­savant assistants that enable us to become the best humans we can be.

If we want to make a better world for our children, we need to believe that the future will be better. As Noam Chomsky said: “Unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”

Optimism today isn’t only justified—it’s a strategy for living. Change Is Good.

Militant optimism.

Louis Rossetto (@rossetto) was the founder, with Jane Metcalfe, of WIRED, and served as editor in chief until 1998.

This article appears in the October issue. Subscribe now.

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