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A Complex World of Accelerating Change

Can we deal with incessant and accelerating change and complexity without revolutionizing our thinking? Traditionally, our thinking has been designed for routine, for habit, for automation and fixed procedure. We learned how to do our job, and then we used what we learned over and over. But the problems we now face, and will increasingly face, require a radically different form of thinking, thinking that is more complex, more adaptable, and more sensitive to divergent points of view. The world in which we now live requires that we continually relearn, that we routinely rethink our decisions, and that we regularly reevaluate the way we work and live. In short, there is a new world facing us, one in which the power of the mind to command itself, to regularly engage in self-analysis, will increasingly determine the quality of our work, the quality of our lives, and perhaps even, our very survival.

Consider a simple feature of daily life: drinking water from the tap. With the increase of pollution, the poisoning of ground water, the indirect and long-term negative consequences of even small amounts of any number of undesirable chemicals, how are we to judge whether or not our drinking water is safe? Increasingly, governments are making decisions about how many lives to risk based on the financial consequence of saving them, about whether, for example, to put less money into the improvement of water quality at increased risks to human health. How are we to know whether the risk the government is willing to take with our lives is in line with our willingness to be at risk? This is just one of hundreds of decisions that require that we think critically about the ever-more changing world we face.

Consider the quiet revolution that is taking place in global communications. From fax machines to E-Mail, from complex electronic marketing systems to systems that track us and penetrate our private lives, we are not only providing positive opportunities for people to be more efficient with their time, but also systems that render us vulnerable and wield power over us. On the one hand, we have networks where goods, services, and ideas are freely exchanged with individuals the world over, and on the other hand, we face worldwide surveillance systems that render privacy an illusion. How are we to respond to these revolutionary changes? What is one to resist and what is one to support? When is a new system cost effective? Who should control it? For what ends should it be used? Who is to monitor its impact on human lives and well being? How are we to preserve our traditional freedoms, at home and abroad? How are we to protect our families and ourselves? How are we to preserve our human rights and have lives of autonomy, security, and integrity? What are we willing to give up in the pursuit of greater convenience and ease of communication?

And while we ponder the many issues related to technological advancement, we must also juggle and judge work and child care, efficiency and clogged transportation systems, expensive cars and inconvenient office space, increased specialization and increasing obsolescence, increased state power and decreased civil freedoms.

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