Our world, our lives, are changing at an increasingly rapid rate. Here are some poignant examples. Horse and buggies were our civilization’s primary mode of transportation for about 600 years before the invention of the automobile in 1885 (and subsequent commercialization in 1908). The airplane was invented 18 years later in 1903 and was commercialized in the mid-1920s. Jet airplanes were introduced in 1939 by the Germans in WWII. Finally, space travel first occurred (by the Russians) on April 12, 1961, with the first shuttle launch (not coincidentally) on April 12, 1981. After 600 years of horse and buggy, humans went from driving the first car to systematic flights into space in less than 100 years. In another example, computers were invented in 1936. The first one was the size of a room and was limited to addition and subtraction. In 1947 the transistor was invented. This allowed for both the size of computers to be vastly reduced and for significantly more computations (enabling computers to do more than just act as calculators). Personal computers were introduced in the early 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1976 that Apple debuted a functional multi-purpose computer for an individual. That first Apple computer was 1,000 times more powerful than every computer and electronic, combined, on any Apollo spacecraft. The iPhone, which debuted in 2007, is more than 10,000 times more powerful than the first Apple computer. Therefore, over the last 11 years, anyone on our planet with an iPhone has had one million times more intellectual capacity at their fingertips than the entire Apollo 8 space mission, which was the first manned mission to circumnavigate the moon in December 1968.
What is the point of showcasing these staggering advances in such a short period of time? Consider the decisions that we need to make today compared to 1900 (120 years ago), or even a mere 50 (1968) years ago. The depth of the decision, the breadth of the decision and the impact of the decision have grown in direct proportion. How to raise our children; how to choose a profession; how we consider health care; how we make ethical decisions; how we make thousands of every day decisions, too, is staggeringly different.
After 500 years of relatively consistent needs and, what I would consider to be simple decision-making, our decisions are logarithmically more challenging than anyone could have predicted a mere 100 years ago; and I would argue, possibly more difficult to assess and accurately ever conclude. If you disagree, I will offer this thought. I believe our children today are making different decisions as compared to when I was their age, using different tools, and having different outcomes that are significantly more broadly impacted.
Let us add one more staggering factor. In 1800, the world population was 1 billion, the U.S. population, 5 million. In 1900, the world population grew by about 60 percent to 1.6 billion, while the U.S. population by 16 times to about 80 million. Today, world population has grown an additional five times to about 7.7 billion and U.S. population has grown an additional four times to about 325 million people (slightly less than all of Europe in 1900).
We are making ever so many more difficult and complex decisions for ourselves and our families in not only a more challenging technological world, but an inconceivably more crowded world. Our personal decisions affect more people and there are literally tens of millions more people making decisions that affect us. By virtue of the numbers alone, more people are making bad decisions (and more are making good decisions); more people are inventing new things every day and more drivers are creating more traffic each morning. Because of technology, more people are making decisions with a significantly deeper understanding of the issues; and, many more people are making decisions with a superficial knowledge of any topic quickly garnered by Google headlines. In any gathering, there will be more crazy people in the room, more definitions of what crazy is, more opinions on how to solve the problem, and more opinions on whether the problem was indeed solved.
With this in mind, here is my 2,000-year-old Chanukah message: We have to learn to work, live and play together. Time, population and technology are all working against us in this arena. It’s always good to be right. But increasingly so, it’s okay to have a differing opinion and not be wrong. We have to gain more patience. We have to increase the respect we have for others and their opinions. We have to accept not getting our way. Our sandbox is crowded, and we are more intelligent today than the sum total of our ancestors. We must adapt to our new surroundings or the consequences will be catastrophic. It all starts with each one of us making compromises, not daily, but continuously.