Change or Progress?

I found the following two-minute video simultaneously intriguing, stimulating, and just a little disturbing.

First, a little context. The Glossary is a group that produces videos to promote books. They put together the video I highlighted a short time ago called “This is Water.” This one promotes Cory Doctorow’s The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, which I confess to knowing almost nothing about.

The book aside, what I find provocative is the way the video challenges our notions of change and progress. We are, by and large, children of modernity, and one of the axiomatic assumptions of Western culture since the Enlightenment has been that human history is one long march forward. That progress is our destiny, goal and right.

This is particularly evident at several points in the history of the U.S. Consider the name given for the belief that it was the God-given right for American settlers to expand and take possession of the western territories: manifest destiny. Or think back to the optimism shared in the 1950s after the U.S. emerged from both the depression and World War II stronger than ever. The world was our oyster and the future was bright, as some of the vintage film clips the video employs so well demonstrate.

But then something happened. In this case (post WW II optimism), it was the 60s and 70s where so much seemed up for grabs and suddenly what seemed like progress to some seemed like backsliding to others and vice versa. Changes brings instability and instability creates peculiar mixtures of fear and excitement.

Which is why, I think, the video struck such a chord with me. As I was watching some of the images of past visions of future progress shimmer on the screen it struck me how often we are poor predictors of the future. We do have Skype – which bears a pretty remarkable likeness to the video phone the Jetsons used :). But we don’t have robots walking around doing our menial tasks. Not only that, but so many things changed that no one expected. Where was the sci-fi novel, for instance, that touted a future where men and women would share far more equally the tasks of child-rearing and income earning? Men wearing jet-packs? Yes. Men wearing Baby-Bjorns? Never saw that coming. 🙂

So what does all this say about progress and/or change? That change is inevitable, but progress isn’t. That we bear some responsibility for making sure that we live toward a better future, not just a different one. That we’ll often not know what is progress and what is change when we’re in the middle of it, and so can’t be held back until we figure it all out. That we need not sit back and wait for someone else to change the world but that we are invited to poke it, prick at it, try things out, live into our vision of a better future, and see what happens. Maybe it will catch on; maybe not. But either way, we’ll be changed in the process and perhaps the world will, too.

In any case, I’d be interested in what you think: about the video, about change, and about the changed and changing world and church we live in and that God loves so much.

The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow from The Glossary on Vimeo.

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