I recently wrote a review of Build for Tomorrow, the new book from Entrepreneur magazine editor-in-chief Jason Feifer. The book is a guide for how we can deal with change in your personal and professional worlds, and it’s a great read. Feifer forces us to look at the dynamic reality of our lives: We can’t stop the world and get off just because we’re nervous about the future, so we need to handle the change that is going to happen as well as we can. Attempting to ignore that necessity leads to all kinds of second-order trouble.
The book is thus a great addition to the self-help and professional coaching genre of the publishing world, but generally stops short of applying Feifer’s theory of change to the world of politics and policy making. Feifer does hold up a few suggestions of dumb government policy from years past (such as regulating the color or margarine), but the book itself is mostly about individual empowerment. Given the topics he’s covered on his podcast (formerly Pessimists Archive), though, I suspect that there is an excellent book still waiting to be written about how dumb techno panics have held us back in the past and how we can hopefully avoid them in the future.
When it comes to people worrying about, for example, the effects of mass media and pop culture on children, we’re likely today to hear a lot about the allegedly baleful effects of endless scrolling on Tiktok and similar social media platforms. But those warnings are oddly similar to past ones we’ve heard about everything from heavy metal music to comic books to pinball to radio dramas to dime novels. All of those influences were supposedly going to destroy the youth of America, yet somehow, we not only got over them, but today it seems comedically quaint and naive for people to have become so distraught over their influence in the first place. I suspect that people worrying about “screen addiction” in today’s kids will be considered roughly on par, in 30 years, with the movement to ban teddy bears at in the early 20th century.
Looking at the social panics from previous generations should help us lower our blood pressure when looking at similar melodramatic headlines today. But it can also remind us that change and growth are necessary and good, and that automatically opposing new technologies will leave our society poorer, not safer. That’s true of everything from nanotechnology and artificial intelligence to next-generation nuclear power and deep geothermal drilling. We have a tough enough time successfully deploying (or redeploying) technologies that we already know are safe and effective; the last thing we need is roadblocks to new discoveries. The Feifer attitude can help us with that.