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No one doubts this process is accelerating, which means increasing numbers of things we like will be transformed into things we like too much

The world is more addictive than it was 40 years ago. And unless the forms of technological progress that produced these things are subject to different laws than technological progress in general, the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40.

The next 40 years will bring us some wonderful things. I don’t mean to imply they’re all to be avoided. Alcohol is a dangerous drug, but I’d rather live in a world with wine than one without. Most people can coexist with alcohol; but you have to be careful. More things we like will mean more things we have to be careful about.

Societies eventually develop antibodies to addictive new things. I’ve seen that happen with cigarettes. When cigarettes first appeared, they spread the way an infectious disease spreads through a previously isolated population. Smoking rapidly became a (statistically) normal thing. There were ashtrays everywhere. We had ashtrays in our house when I was a kid, even though neither of my parents smoked. You had to for guests.

As knowledge spread about the dangers of smoking, customs changed. In the last 20 years, smoking has been transformed from something that seemed totally normal into a rather seedy habit: from something movie stars did in publicity shots to something small huddles of addicts do outside the doors of office buildings. A lot of the change was due to legislation, of course, but the legislation couldn’t have happened if customs hadn’t already changed.

It took a while though—on the order of 100 years. And unless the rate at which social antibodies evolve can increase to match the accelerating rate at which technological progress throws off new addictions, we’ll be increasingly unable to rely on customs to protect us. [3] Unless we want to be canaries in the coal mine of each new addiction—the people whose sad example becomes a lesson to future generations—we’ll have to figure out for ourselves what to avoid and how. It will actually become a reasonable strategy (or a more reasonable strategy) to suspect everything new.

Via Paul Graham

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