We're the last generation to grow old
Our children won't have that problem because they're so lucky
For us, being old is going to be a big problem
Who will dispose of all of us?
- 9353, "Senior Citizen Disposal Plant"
63 years ago today, the world's first atomic bomb was exploded at the Trinity site in Alamagordo, New Mexico. I am told my grandfather worked on it.
39 years ago today, the first manned mission to the Moon was launched from Cape Kennedy. Also I was born. 4 days later my newborn eyes saw the television broadcast of the landing.
Over the last 39 years technology has made some astounding advancements. In 1969 a "computer" was a room- or building-sized machine that was little more than a fast calculator. There is more computing power in an iPod now than was used for the Moon shot.
We finally have the "hang-on-a-wall" flat-screen, high-definition color televisions (telscreens?) that I heard about when I was a kid. Almost every piece of recorded music is available on-demand, and video is following close behind (funny that books, the oldest data/media format, are not yet available this way). Video games have gone from "Pong" to things that, at a glance, are barely distinguishable from HDTV broadcasts.
I grew up with rotary dial phones. I remember when the government broke up Ma Bell, and allowed MCI to start competing. Now mobile phones are not just common, they're banal. "Mail" has been replaced with "e-mail", and "e-mail" is also something completely different. As is Twitter (which is also something completely stupid, but that's another post) and all the social networking junk.
Medical science has progressed as well. While I personally am rather disenchanted with medical technology these days, medicine has come a long way. There are fantastic new drugs, ranging from anti-baldness treatments (something that was joked about when I was a kid) to better sleeping pills and advances in painkillers. Advances in medical imaging that put full-body scans within reach of anyone. Things one couldn't do at any price now available down the street.
One reason there will be so many more amputees, damaged brains, and other disabled veterans of the Bush wars is how much better doctors have gotten at saving lives. Many of these same patients would have died had they sustained their injuries in the 1991 Gulf War. Technology marches on, for better or for worse.
Medical science even found a vaccine for HPV - a virus, and a cancer-causing one at that. It's a double miracle. Yet many people are hesitant to give their children the shot to prevent it, for a variety of reasons. Some of which are the typical fear and ignorance that have caused humanity problems for thousands of years.
And now the respirocyte. Apparently a scientist is developing:
"a robotic red blood cell that, if injected into the bloodstream, would allow humans to do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath or sit at the bottom of a swimming pool for hours at a time"Man, how cool would that be? It would revolutionize swimming and diving, at the very least. Maybe more people would walk if they didn't get winded. Marathons would be a lot easier. Presumably this could also be modified to allow breathing of oxygen-poor atmospheres - either our own soon-to-be-carbon-laden Earth or perhaps even the 95% CO2 Martian atmosphere.
That's how it starts - first people just want to improve a little bit. Like say carving up your eyes with lasers so that instead of seeing 20/150, you now see 20/15? You don't look any different, and hey, now you're "back to where you were a few years ago, maybe a little better", right?
Given technology's relentless march, where will we be in 3 or 4 more decades? I used to want to live forever. Now I'm not so sure. Certainly I want a long, healthy, and happy life. It's been a good 39 years, and I hope to have around 39 more. But our planet is already over-populated, and the numbers aren't going the right way. Should science be extending people's lives, perhaps indefinitely?
Even if the technology permits, will religion and other social/cultural biases allow it? I also believe there will be generational issues. Tattoos and earrings have become banal, too (much to my chagrin!), but to older people they still have certain connotations (I was asked to remove my earrings before testifying in front of Federal judges). What about body modification? I'm not talking about tiny metal barbells through various tissues, I'm talking about leopard spots. Or bioluminescent skin or hair. Or scales. Or built-in displays and memory.
I look forward to the future, and hope that I last long enough and that it comes fast enough that I can at least see it, if not actively participate.
Hey you kids, get off my lawn!