Sunday, March 29, 2009


Early in March 1967, in eastern Canada, an eleven-year-old child died of old age.

Ricky Gallant was only eleven years olf chronologically, but he suffered from an odd disease called progeria - advanced ageing - and he exhibited many characteristics of a ninety-year-old person. The symptoms of progeria are senility, hardend arteries, baldness, slack and wrinkled. In effect, Ricky was an old man when he died, a long lifetime of biological change having been packed into his eleven short years.

Cases of progeria are extremely rare. Yet in a metaphorical sense the high technology societies all suffer from this ailment. They are not growing old or senile. But the are expieriencing super-normal rates of change.

Many of us have a vague 'feeling' that things are moving faster. Doctors and executives alike complain that they cannot keep up with the latest developments in their feilds. Hardly a meeting or a conference takes place today without some ritualistic oratory about 'the challenge of change'. Among many there is an uneasy mood - a suspicion that change is out of control.

Not everyone, however, shares this anxiety. Millions of people walk their way through their lives as if nothing has changed since the 1930s, and as if nothing will ever will. Living in what is one of the most exciting times of human history, they attempt to withdraw fro it, to block it out, as if it were possible to make it go away by ignoring it. They seek a 'separate peace', a diplomatic humanity from change.

One sees everywhere: old people, resigned to living out their years, attempting to avoid, at any cost, the intrusions of the new. Already - old people of thirty-five and forty-five, nervous about student riots, sex, LSD, or miniskirts, feverishly attempting to persuade themselves that, after all, youth was always rebellious, and what is happening today is no different from the past. Even among the young we find an incomprehension of change: students so ignorat of the past that they see nothing unusual about the present.

The disturbing fact is that the vast majority of people, including educated and otherwise sophisticated people, find the idea of change so thereatening that they deny its existence. Even many people understand intellectually that change is accelerating, have not internalized that knowledge, do not thake this critical social fact into account in planning their own personal lives.

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