Changes 12/2/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Yes, well over half a century old, I’ve seen some changes in my day.  I’ve seen the transition from doing math by hand to when only the “smart” kids were allowed to use calculators (how is that even logical?).  I’ve seen the celebrations when the Berlin Wall went down and the politics when the Mexican Wall was supposed to go up.  I’ve seen the technological advances made when man went on the moon and billionaires go into space instead of trying to do something actually productive with their money.  I’ve seen the celebrations when George W. Bush declared the war in Afghanistan over and the chaos when it actually ended.  I’ve seen rooms of computer monitors connected a to Unix server used for serious research and computers in the palms of hands detracting us from each other on our first date.  I’ve seen the debate over which was the greater environmental threat, global warming or global cooling (from soot in the air) to a global movement to stop global warming initiated by a fifteen-year-old going on a school strike by herself.

Change is a mixed bag.  Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it leaves much to be desired.  We defeated fascism in World War II, but today it is behind riots and insurrections within the shores of our own nation.  We live in a nation that celebrates (at least the ideal of) free speech, so the voices of fascists, in my opinion, should be heard.  However, in a civil society, free speech does not cover hate, violence or incitement which is what these fascists seem to be coveting even as they call themselves “patriots”.  This new trend is not a good thing.

Technology is a mixed bag.  The rooms filled with computer servers that I used to learn to program had less power than the computers in the typical smartphone today.  I bought my very first PC in 1985 (after graduating from college), which was more powerful than the computers that took us to the moon.  With such power, we can accomplish some marvelous things.  I used them to model protein structure, the DNA sequence specific binding of the anti-tumor medication Distamycin, and model quantum structure of electrons in a polydentate ligand, but today I just use it to look at pornography.  Everything seems to be available at our fingertips, but how do we choose to use it?  Technology helps us save lives every day and disconnect from each other. 

Change can be frightening, especially when it requires us to be introspective and change ourselves.  Like many people, I used to think the fifties were years of happiness, until somebody pointed out that the only people who were truly happy then were white men.  That was a shock to my psyche, and it forced me to re-examine the decade of joy and their practices.  With this I was forced to look at my own attitudes, recognize my own ignorance and modify the way I approach life.  Many people my age are really struggling with this, refusing to change and giving rise to the political and literal violence we are seeing across the nation as the backlash against “wokeness” continues.  I understand this desire to remain ignorant.  It’s frankly just easier to live blissfully in the dark, but it’s amazing how much more you can see in the light.  I’m far more distraught to see the racism inherent in our system, but so much happier to recognize it’s there, just as it is in my very own psyche.  Am I a racist?  I would like to say that I am not, but if I truly believe that, then I cannot make changes to improve, either.  I can honestly say, though, that I have made my very best efforts to recognize my own flaws and correct them, changing who I am for the better.

Sometimes, when I write a post, it surprises even me.  This post took a very different turn from the direction I thought it would go.  Originally, I wanted to talk about software updates to my PC, and changes to fast food menus.  I had intended to bemoan change for change’s sake, but this thread is far more significant, and more important than even I had planned.  I guess that if I had to put a lesson to this one, it would have to be to be careful how societal and technological evolution changes you.  We can choose to fall in with the disconnected crowd when out with our loved ones, or to turn our phones off and actually connect with somebody in person.  We can ignore the signs of strife in our nation, or we can choose a side and at the very least add our voice to the side that we believe to be the best one.  How these areas of evolution actually change us is really our choice, not “theirs”.

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