About a week ago, I met with one of my friends for beer. We catched up on each other’s lives, spoke about current day events - mainly the War in Ukraine, the recent crash in the stock market, and other events happening right now in the world. At some point I’ve said “Everything looks so fucked up”, and he added “Yeah…”.
After a few moments of silence, I asked him “Do you think our parents had similar feelings about their lives and their future?”. My friend is a popular blogger and has a big community around him, and he went on telling me that just recently he ran a survey among his community on the exact same question. We were both born in Post Soviet Union countries and most of his community are members from post USSR, so he asked them whether their parents had a feeling that their lives and future is totally fucked up. And surprisingly, their parents’ answers were - no. They didn’t have that feeling.
A brief history of USSR
Most of our parents were born somewhere around 1950-1960. A mere decade after the end of the second world war. The USSR had lost 13.7% of its population, a devastating 26,600,000, due to WW2. You don’t recover from that in one decade.
On top of all that, Germany and Berlin were divided among the winning allied powers, the most notable being the US and USSR, with a completely different world views and societal order - Capitalism vs Communism. This led to yet another war - The Cold War which lasted almost 5 decades. The US was spreading Capitalism all over the world, while the USSR was hidden behind an Iron Curtain manifesting its communist views to its citizens.
The peak point of the cold war was the Cuban Missile Crisis - a 35 day confrontation that could have brought the world and human civilization to an end with Nuclear War.
Then in 1968 Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1969 there was a clash between Soviet and Chinese troops across the border. Then things were silent for a few decades, up until 1986 when the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded.
1989 signals the beginning of “Revolutions of 1989” leading to toppling of Soviet imposed communist regimes, the Fall of the Berlin Wall and eventually the Fall of USSR in 1991.
The fall of the USSR followed by very unsettling times and the rise of Anti Semitism which forced a lot of people to immigrate. And the rest is modern history.
A 50 years of tension between two world powers, a prospect of Nuclear Annihilation and Iron Curtain, and yet, our parents did not feel that everything is fucked up. Why is that?
On 26 of April, 1986 at the No.4 Nuclear Reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant - an explosion occurred. An explosion that released enormous amounts of radiation over Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and neighboring European countries. Only 36 hours after the event, the first news about evacuations started to appear in mass media. And on 28th of April, the Russian national federal news agency reported that an explosion occurred.
An event that big was hidden for more than 2 days. This was in 1986. Also, in that year, IBM announced its first laptop computer - the IBM PC Convertible, weighing 12 pounds (~5.4 kg), which is 18 pounds (~8.1 kg) lighter than the earlier portable computer.
Another nuclear disaster occured on 11 of March 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. At 14:46 local time, an earthquake hit Honshu Island causing nuclear reactors 1, 2 and 3 to shut down automatically. At 15:46 a tsunami overtops the seawall that was designed to protect the plant and causes flooding and malfunction of the backup generator, which in turn leads to overheating.
16:00 - The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan initiates an emergency headquarters to gather information. And at 19:03, a bit more than 4 hours from the start of the event, the prime minister Naoto Kan declares a nuclear emergency status. Also in 2011 Emojis became mainstream after their introduction on the iPhone.
The way we access information today is way different than what it was in the USSR. Back in USSR times, you’d learn about events from the radio or newspapers. Radios were not portable so you rarely carried one in your pocket; and newspapers needed to be printed and distributed, so information became outdated by the time you read it.
Moreover - radio air time was limited as well as the amount of news you could print in a single newspaper, so editors had to pick the most “interesting” or “shocking” news to publish. Individual press was nearly non existing; and major news outlets, especially in the USSR, were controlled by the ruling party. So you get one point of view, censored by the ruling party.
This is way different than today. Today you have a ton of independent, oftentimes first-hand reports of live events. YouTubers and Tik-Tokers find themselves among the early ones to cover major events, way ahead of news agencies - which still rely on some sort of editing and publishing format.
News are broadcasted via countless TV channels, while at the same time being mirrored to websites and YouTube streaming. On demand news is accessible on a by-minute basis through platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok and Telegram. Unfiltered, uncensored. All in one device, weighing somewhere around 6.1 ounce (~173 grams) that fits easily in your pocket, with a constant connection to the Internet.
Our world in data
I really like the website ourworldindata.org. They have 3280 charts across 297 topics including - Demographic, Health, Food, Living Conditions, etc.
According to some of their research, all major metrics associated with happy life - are increasing. Life expectancy, for example, has grown from an average of 32 years in 1900, to an average of 72 years in 2019 (source). The share of battle deaths is declining (source). Global education has increased as well (source).
And yet, we feel like everything is doomed. Especially during the past 3 years. And the biggest reason that my friend and I believe is to blame - is social media and rapid access to information.
Humans developed from hunter-gatherers in predator filled environments. Our brains are programmed to look for danger. If you spot the lion before it spots you - you get another day to live. We are addicted to “bad” news. Bad news helps us survive.
Now - here is the catch. Evolution works well over time. A long time. Like a really long time. You won’t see substantial change in the evolution of our brain over one generation. Technology on the other side progresses super fast. The first transistor computers appeared in 1955. There are now teenagers who have never seen a Floppy Disk before.
Technology has blessed us with many good things. But our brains did not evolve enough to adapt to technology, so we are still hooked on looking for disasters. Especially now - when disasters are one swipe away. Disasters and catastrophes sell. Nobody wants to read the news about peaceful pandas. We are hooked on gossip, and “fail” videos. We are motivated by a scarcity mindset that is being sold to us by marketers. “Beware! Only today! 19.99 instead of gazillion”.
An entire generation is feeling hopeless, while the data shows that our world is becoming better, all due to rapid access to technology and by-minute coverage of major world events.