Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Beginning or The End?

For a number of years I have heard my friend Andy Tobias gives a "canned" speech about, well, everything. In it he uses distance as an analogy for time. The Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago and simple cellular life appeared about 3.5 billion years ago. It is approximately 2600 miles from San Francisco to the computer where I am typing this post in New York City. Using a journey across the country to represent the history of the Earth, you'd have to travel about 1300 miles before life appears somewhere near Denver, CO, about 3 billion years ago.

Using the same scale:
  • Complex life appeared 1 billion years ago, which would be 580 miles away in Chicago
  • The dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago all the way in Morristown, NJ
  • Human Beings appeared 200,000 years ago less than a long city block down my street in Manhattan
  • Civilization emerged (and dogs were domesticated) 11,500 years ago 35 feet away, which is (just) inside my apartment
  • Recorded history started 6000 years ago, 18 feet away
  • Rome fell 1558 years ago, 4 feet 9 inches from my seat
  • The American revolution was 8 inches away, almost on my keyboard

Using this scale, almost every technological advance - EVERYTHING we absolutely take for granted today from electric power to steel construction, from automobiles to jumbo jets, from global communications to vaccinations, has happened in the blink of an eye when viewed on a cosmic.

Seen this way, our generation truly stands at the turning point in history. From here on out, everything we do is a vast uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is utterly unpredictable. We have it in our power to make or break it all.

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