Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Birthdays and Aging

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!


Henry Bono said...

Great post Anu, and its cool to see your life's relationship to technology.

I just wanted to scribble down some comments regarding your description of HPV vaccine acceptance, but first from a larger context. While I think we're entering a golden age for technology like you describe I also think we're entering a dark age where freedom, privacy, and individual rights are concerned. There are, and have been for a very long time, people at the very top of the food chain who shape society in ways we're largely not aware of.

The reason books like Brave New World, and 1984 are part of the high school canon, and have been for half a century, is because of their value in predictive programming. In a classroom the obvious consensus will be, "No, we definitely don't want a world where the state determines Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma status at birth and places cameras in every home." However, that discussion forces the class to be acutely aware of these ideas, where they weren't before, and in time become comfortable with them. Fast forward a few generations and this turns into, "I guess that's how the future is going to be." Huxley's brother was a founding member of UNESCO, and Aldous was simply dictating from him what were back in 1933 long term plans for society - he's very clear on this point while lecturing at Berkeley shortly before his death in 1962 and recordings are easily found. Today, from an early age children are through cartoons, toys, and school made to feel at ease with fingerprinting, eye scans, and being tracked and traced. At the same time, our populace is clearly being made to be dumb and uninformed, and it can only be intentional. And as outrageous as it may sound, eugenics is a real part of the world being created. America, as well Europe, has a solid documented history of administering eugenics and sterilization programs, although completely ignored by mainstream texts and the "history" channel. The plans haven't gone away, but have morphed into softer, more palatable forms that are more easily accepted. Projecting outward a number of years I think we're clearly heading straight into hardcore dystopia.

Where the HPV vaccine is concerned, the media has portrayed those who refuse the shot as having done so largely because of sexual conservatism, but that's because they can't talk about the reality that many are becoming more and more aware of the dangers of big business (pharma in this case) combining forces with the state. Merck has placed so much weight upon government and the media that in some states, including Texas, the vaccine was portrayed as being legally required, and thereby guaranteeing a financial windfall. Vaccines are not required for public school, yet there is a huge financial incentive for the schools to vaccinate, as they receive money for every shot administered in the form of government and pharma subsidies. Informed consent is history.

Both food allergies and autism have exponentially exploded in recent decades, and "anectdotally" (as though the info isn't valid) these conditions begin directly after scheduled vaccinations. Again, there absolutely will never be any disclosure on these issues by the FDA or the powers that be, and right now its a matter of the people figuring it out on their own and distributing the information on their own. Its almost as though actual reality is layered just like in the movie The Matrix. Considering the volumes of documented history and number of tragic and consistent first hand accounts I make very careful decisions where these types of permanent medications are concerned (i.e. I "just say no").

Enough from me. Thanks Anu for providing this forum, and here is an accompanying playlist. The Luscious track fits in very well here. Thanks and Later!

Anu said...

Regarding your notes about the vaccines - I agree that Big Pharma should not be given carte blanche to shoot people up with stuff. No one company should be allowed to profit from any medicine people are required to take. And we, the people, need to be very careful about what sort of medicines we do require.

On that note, I do think it is reasonable for a society to require vaccinations for its citizens.

Humans are extremely bad at understanding risk and tend to act in irrationally selfish ways.

This past weekend, I read an article in the New York Times about how measles is making a comeback because parents are afraid to vaccinate their children.

The risk of something bad happening from the measles vaccine is very, very low. Much lower than the risk to a child of something bad happening from measles.

And when the increased risk for passing measles along to other children is factored in, I believe refusing to vaccinate your child borders on irresponsible.

The irony is this - because measles was nearly eradicated in the USA, very few new parents these days have any exposure to measles horror stories.

Yet because (nearly) everyone vaccinates their kids, the likelihood of a bad vaccination story goes up a little bit and becomes that much more likely to be news fodder, thus scaring parents and society back to a time when the media will be forced to run stories about measles outbreaks "right here at home" and encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated.

Our country and several others encourage or require vaccinations against common infectious diseases as a requirement for entry under certain conditions.

Some schools are willing to ban friggin' peanut butter because one kid in the school might go into anaphylactic shock. Is requiring vaccinations really that different?

While I do believe there are also differences and degrees here, it's difficult to start deciding which things are OK to require vaccinations against and which aren't. Measles? Yellow Fever? Sure. I doubt people will argue that.

What about HPV? Transmission vectors can include things like shaking hands or other common touching in school. HPV is a virus, and you basically have it for life. Some studies estimate that 30% of the population has it. Some say 80%. Some doctors believe at this point basically everyone has it.

Making vaccinations mandatory wouldn't be necessary if people behaved in a more rational way. The same could be said for seatbelts, helmets, and speed limits. For intelligent and reasonable people, it can be seen as infringing on personal freedom. But the longer I live, the more I become convinced that most people simply aren't intelligent or reasonable enough.