Last year, before the whole collapse of the housing market, I wrote a column called "Will things get better or worse?" As a science fiction writer, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out where the future is going based on present trends. I filter the world for odd bits of data that serve as omens, both good and bad, seaching for clues as to whether the world twenty years from now is going to be in the midst of a Golden Age, or if we're all doomed and should be stocking up on bottled water and shotgun shells.
Last year, I didn't know. This year... of course I still don't know. The only thing certain about the future is that it's going to throw you curveballs. But, here are some data points that have caught my attention lately:
The best clue that the world is going to be just peachy:
My best friend has been having trouble with his heart, and is even now facing the prospect of Christmas spent in the ICU, having a pacemaker installed. This ISN'T the good news. But, during the course of diagnosing his heart condition, he was sent home for two weeks with a cell phone that transmitted data continuously to a monitoring service, tracking his pulse and blood pressure. This information was collected primarily to diagnose whether he actually needed a pacemaker, but while he was on the monitor, he'd get phone calls asking him if he was feeling any symptoms, apparently because the data was showing abnormal data. The bad news is, this created a lot of grief: It's not conducive to sleep to have medical big brother waking you up with phone calls at 2am asking how you're feeling. "Stressed out and tired!" would be the only sensible answer by about the third phone call. But, while the execution of the data collection left something to be desired, I was still amazed by the potential of the cell phone heart monitor.
For instance, my grandmother fell and broke her hip while gathering firewood a few weeks back. She was all alone, and made the heroic struggle to drag herself back into the house so that she could call for help. But, these days, cell phones are sophisticated enough to know their orientation and flip their screens based on how they are being held. I predict the day will come when the elderly could have a simple app on their cell phones that recognizes the motion of a person falling and can automatically trigger a call for help, or at least a call to investigate whether assistance is needed (since there will almost certainly be more false positives than actual injuries... they might drop the phone, for instance).
Diabetics could have continuous, real time blood sugar monitoring via cell phone. A chemotherapy patient could be monitored for drug levels following an infusion, and the treatment schedule fine tuned with a precision that formerly would have required residing in a hospital. In fact, it won't be long before you don't have to go to the hospital, because your cell phone and a few sensors implanted beneath the skin will turn you into a walking hospital. Google has released the android operating system. I predict we aren't far off from the cyborg operating system. You won't need to go visit your doctor when you wake up with the sniffles. Your phone will scan you like a tri-corder and have all your vital signs ready when you call in to the Google doctor desk. The Google doctorbot can tell you to call in sick and drink lots of chicken soup, or it can tell you to get to a surgeon immediately to get that damned appendix out.
This level of innovation and ingenuity fills me with a lot of hope. No matter how challenging the problems, there a actual geniuses out there hard at work finding solutions. Invention will begat invention, and one day, we shall all be healed.
The reason we should all just give up now:
I've been finding the political news this year just agonizing. I'm not arguing that things were better under Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, or Carter, or that things would be better under McCain. But, as sure as there are a lot of smart people solving the problems of the world, there are legions of idiots in elected offices working hard to create new problems.
The levels of outright bribery going on in the house and senate to pass health care "reform" have to leave any fair-minded person a bit sick to the stomach. But, whether or not this was a good bill or a bad bill, what terrifies me most is that I honestly worry that the US is on the verge of bankruptcy. As a nation, we are deep in a debt hole, and the hole is only getting deeper. I feel like we're in a very fast car heading for a cliff, and our politicians keep slamming down on the accelerator, and no one is grabbing the steering wheel.
I cannot point to a single significant national figure who is proposing a sensible plan to deal with our national addiction to borrowing. The democrats have turned into a parody of themselves; the rap against the party has always been that it's a party of free-spenders and big government, so, of course, now that they are back in control, they are on a spending spree that truly does dwarf anything we've seen since WWII, both in real dollars and as a percentage of GDP. I want to throw the bums out... but replace them with what? Republicans? They haven't exactly covered themselves in glory when it comes to deficits. They are stuck on the idea that tax cuts are going to eliminate the deficit. But, since they first acted on this idea in 1980, and we've had three decades of deficit spending in the interum (save for one brief blip during the Clinton years), I'd say that they can keep beating the tax cut horse if they want to, but most sane people understand that the horse is dead.
Unfortunately, our politicians aren't elected by sane people. They are elected by Americans. Our binary political structure leaves us doomed. We can either elect democrats, who will produce sky-rocketing deficits with unrestrained spending coupled with a lack of courage to raise taxes, or we can elect republicans who will produce sky-rocketing deficits by cutting taxes while lacking the courage to cut spending. No party out there is willing to tell the American public the truth: To escape from three decades of outrageous fiscal irresponsibility, we are going to have to both cut spending and raise taxes.