The world of today is going through dramatic changes. Through the processes of globalization, rapidly increasing connectivity, and technological revolution, it is becoming a much smaller place. In turn, it is in many ways beginning to unify its economic, political, cultural, and social systems. The exponential growth of technological and scientific development and the rise of the computer and the internet has connected people with the wealth of human knowledge and each other in ways never before experienced. Within the next century, humanity will begin and expand its activities in outer space in what will constitute a new era of exploration and colonization. Social upheavals and major popular reform movements are appearing across the globe in hastening frequency, and the major political systems of the world are facing new challenges, struggles, and uprisings. All of this is happening, meanwhile, in a quickening pace. Change and progress is happening faster and faster.
One could argue that historians often group periods of human development and history into ‘eras.’ We today are familiar with the major ‘eras’ of Western development, which have in turn largely influenced the development of our entire world. These include the ‘Classical era’, the ‘Middle Ages,’ the ‘Renaissance’ and ‘Enlightenment,’ the ‘Industrial era,’ and the ‘Modern’ or ‘post-Industrial’ era. These eras are separated by major turning points in political, social, intellectual, or technological development. They are characterized by specific conditions, common features, and certain trends in the way society operates and the way political, social, and religious systems are set up and develop. By splitting and grouping periods of human history into these groupings, historians have found it easier to trace the course of history and define certain points in which our species has moved forward in its development. Furthermore, as has been described, these eras allow us to better find and explain commonalities in the way humans have operated at certain periods in time. By the year 2013, multiple eras of human history have occurred and past, and we trace our species’ and civilization’s development by studying them.
It is hard, indeed impossible, to predict the future. Yet we can say with some confidence that human history has not reached its apex, nor is it necessarily approaching its end. Our civilization is thousands of years old, but when compared to the amount of time our species or our planet have been in existence, it occupies only a brief sliver of time in the expansive history of reality. With this in mind, we can recognize that us humans of the 21st century, like all the humans before us and all that will follow, are living only at a single point of time plotted on the grand timeline of human existence. Humanity, and human civilization, will likely and hopefully remain in development for many thousands of years to come.
Considering this, considering how historians study human development, and considering the rapid changes that are beginning to occur in our species’ civilization, I have begun to draw the conclusion that we are living at the precipice facing, or the very beginning of, a new era of human civilization. The human world has fundamentally changed in its structures and daily life over the last fifty years, and is only more rapidly changing for the foreseeable future. The generation born in the last twenty years are more unlike their parents than any other generation that preceded them, and this again will likely be the case for the generations that follow. The development of new technologies such as electricity, and in turn the computer and the internet, are bringing about revolutionary changes in productivity, connectivity, and activity that have only been rivaled in the past by the development of things such as writing, printing, and industry. If we consider that these past developments are what respectively sparked the start of recorded history, the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and the Industrial era, we can perhaps be more confident in our claim that a new era is upon us.
Yet this look at human history and our current place in it can be seen in an even broader view. Looking back at the grand narrative of human history and development, we can and often do combine some of our historical eras into larger groupings. We today can do this and talk about ‘pre-history,’ the period of ‘early civilization,’ civilization’s collapse and the rise of the ‘feudal world,’ and then the post-feudal, enlightened ‘modern world.’ Yet let us remove ourselves from our place in time, and consider human development on a grander scale. How will the historians of the future group the periods of our civilization’s development?
I believe that not only is humanity entering a new era, it is in the beginning of an even larger grouping of eras, the start of a new stage in human development. Looking back thousands of years from now, historians will consider the actions our species is now taking, the technology it is developing, and the way it is beginning to behave as the start of a complete departure from the past thousands of years of human history. Our philosophical foundations and development have provided our species with enlightened views on the nature of government and humanity. Though they are not yet always acted upon and are still often acted against, the ideas of universal suffrage, freedom, liberty, human dignity and universal human rights exist and are constantly growing. Industrial development, the development of electricity and with it enormous reservoirs of power, the rise of the computer which has provided boundless sums of computing power, and the economic and political globalization of our world has provided humanity with productive capabilities. The trends toward international law, organization, the erosion of national sovereignty and the nation state, the slow but growing uniformity of customs, laws, and ideas, are bringing about the development of a human consciousness and global unity that is a far departure from the fractured nature of our world’s past and the perceptions of its inhabitants. The beginning of the development and settlement of space is humanity’s reaching out into the final frontier.
It is because of these things, and the nature of rapid change that is now befalling our species, that the historians of the future will consider the turn of the 2nd millennium to be the beginning of a ‘new’ human civilization, one separate from the last 10,000 years that have led up to this point. If all of the past of human civilization has set the foundations for the world of today, the future will be the building off of it. For historians of the future grouping ‘eras’ of human development, the beginning of the 21st century will be as grand a turning point as the development of agriculture or the rise of the city was for the overall course of human civilization. We are, right now, living at the cusp of a new humanity.