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Is there progress?

06 November 2021

Is there progress?

It seems silly to even pose this question. We live safer lives than our predecessors. Diseases which killed millions each year have been reduced or eradicated. Nearly everyone can read and write, skills once reserved for society’s elite. Clean water, electricity, and air conditioning provide us with a level of comfort that kings lacked. Our smartphones give us more information than presidents of past eras had.

On the other hand, everybody continues to do the same thing. We wake up, do something to provide for ourselves and our families, and go to bed. Rinse and repeat. This as true today as when we were cavemen. Each person has to figure out life’s lessons. We'll all feel anxiety, fear, love, and rest of the gamut of emotion. We'll gossip, compete, share, and procrastinate. We'll eat and drink too much, fuck up and try to repair the damage. How is this any different from the thousands of generations that have come before?

Also, some things have gotten worse. Addiction. Anxiety. Loneliness. We suffer from chronic diseases that weren't as prevalent as they are today. We’re degrading our environment and changing the Earth’s climate. Things can regress. You forget skills. Relationships wither. Societies that were strong grow weak. Dynasties fade into oblivion.

The story of a slow and steady march to a better world doesn’t tell the whole story. It's better to look at the whole picture, acknowledging that we've solved some problems while creating new ones. In addition, the most important problems don't have ready-made solutions you can package up and sell. Each person has to devise their own, under their own volition.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time creative coding. Thanks to this I’ve gotten better at it. If you practice any skill for a period of time, you’ll improve at it. That represents progress to me.

On the other hand, I do the same thing I did when I got started. I just sit down and code. I wonder if I like what I make, and if others will too. I’ll likely be doing the same in the future. My day-to-day experience has been remarkably consistent.

So is there progress? It depends.

Finally, this all presumes progress equals good. That more of something is better. The dose makes the poison; whether something is helpful or not depends as much on how much as it does on what. It’s worth asking whether the progress you seek will actually lead to an outcome you want. It’ll be different for everybody.