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Friday, September 2, 2016

Don’t Take for Granted the Amazing World We Live In

Think about the progress we enjoy and where it comes from

You hear the suction of the sealing airlock. Feel the slight shudder as you push back from the gate. The Captain and flight attendants hold half of your attention as they give the instructions of what to do in the event of some emergency.

The scope of the success and value of these different inventions is evident through the degree of normalcy that they have achieved.Only half of your attention because chances are that you have done this many times before, and because deep down you know that no emergency will happen—indeed the possibility being so remote as to elude the minds of all but the most anxious passengers. The great majority of them, yourself included, fasten their seatbelts, sit back, and experience nothing but perhaps a slight flutter in your stomach at the feeling of being accelerated to a speed of 530 miles per hour along with 255 thousand pounds of metal and machine.

In the midst of this enormous power and force ascending you into the sky, you gaze calmly, with perhaps even a touch of indifference, out the window watching the ground drift away and slowly become smaller as you climb to the height of 35,000 feet.

You put on your headphones, find a relaxing playlist, and if you’re lucky you slip away into a sleep which is only broken by the slight jerk of the aircraft as the wheels touch down and a combination of brakes, spoilers, and thrust reversers bring 115 tons of matter safely to a stop.

You wake up hours and thousands of miles away from where you started. You could be anywhere in the world. The weather and local time are announced in both English and the native language of wherever you are, you exit the aircraft, and go on your way.

This is a fascinating experience because of the thinking, effort, sleepless nights, endless hours, perseverance, and sheer willpower that went into every aspect that makes this experience possible, and because very few people ever think twice about it.

Constantly Amazed

Being a person who probably travels more the average, the ease of everything never ceases to amaze me. Having just lived in Germany, it would take me typically less than 15 hours—house to house—to get home, to cover a distance of roughly 4,100 miles. One hundred years ago, this same journey would have taken at least one week.  

But the thing is, going home doesn’t even have the same allure as it did previously because the great distances and spouts of homesickness are mediated by things such as Skype, Facebook, and Whatsapp. These wonders are no less products of the mind, of years of toil both building on past inventions and innovations and taking completely new steps forward, of figuring out what people want and value, and providing it to them.

The scope of the success and value of these different inventions, whether they be in transportation or communication, is evident through the degree of normalcy that they have achieved. It is surprising when you meet someone who has never flown, and it is simply understood without saying that you will talk and see family members and friends, even experience things with them, while you are abroad or on the opposite end of the country. This is nothing short of incredible.

A Time of Miracles

Put plainly, we are living in a time of miracles. Only they are not miracles. These feats, these wonders, are the products of the mind, of pushing the limits of the possible, of accepting the realities of the world and manipulating them to better suit human needs. The past two hundred years can rightly be called the time of giants. The things that these great thinkers and producers have allowed us to do today would have been thought impossible not that long ago.

But most people don’t think about this. How many on their way to work marvel at the great expanse of highway they are driving on, marvel at the speed and efficiency of the car they are steering, at the fact that so many people can afford these machines that you are stopped dead in traffic, or that you can listen to any type of music from anywhere in the world at the press of a button?

I am not saying that before you make your commute every morning you should kneel down and give thanks to Marconi and Ford because you have a radio and an affordable car. But it is a shame and can be dangerous when we don’t marvel more often at man’s achievements. Dangerous because that lack of marvel, the lack of being inspired by these feats, can very easily (and largely has) lead to us forgetting the great effort that went into things such as our cars and our cellphones.

This, in turn, can lead to us taking them for granted. It is then a small step into thinking that such wonders “just exist” and that progress “just happens.”

Looking back at history from the present it seems logical that things just get better, not because of the willpower and toil of individuals, but just because of the mere passing of time and the seemingly unceasing momentum of history.

This is a mistake.

Freedom Makes It Happen

Put plainly, we are living in a time of miracles. Only they are not miracles.We are where we are today because of the endless work of brilliant minds and the sweat of determination and perseverance. It is only the forgetting of this fact that can lead to the idea that we can have sustained social and economic progress while at the same time destroying the conditions that made it possible. It leads to the idea that the factory workers produce goods while rich industrialists, capitalists, businessmen, and CEOs have unimportant jobs and “do nothing” while raking in millions of dollars.

The idea that, in the words of Ayn Rand, “anybody can run a factory or a railroad and it’s only a matter of seizing the machinery.” The idea that it is the pieces or the opportunity which are paramount with the mind that is able to put the pieces together and use the opportunity being secondary.

Development, progress, the technological wonders of our current age do not all happen unconditionally. They are the direct result of great minds and hard work with a setting of relative freedom in which they were at liberty to innovate, invent, and toil. At liberty to succeed and fail—and bear the consequences of their success or failure. It is important to marvel at the world around you because what you are truly marveling at are the people who made it possible.


  • Ryan Miller is a University of Michigan graduate, freelance translator, and aspiring blogger. He is also a Praxis participant in the September 2016 cohort.