Ideas that are changing your life.
Time Magazine considers ideas that are changing our lives.
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Time magazine’s March 12th 2012 issue considers 10 ideas which it believes are changing our lives. These make for very interesting reading since the rate of change is so dramatic in the world today, and technology is often altering the way in which we undertake even the most basic of tasks. While several of these ideas have greater significance for a life lived in the US, many of them have a universal resonance to them. Here we consider those ideas which we feel are pertinent to life in the developed world as a whole.
Living Alone is the New Norm
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Solitary living has become a very significant social change: the number of Americans living alone for example has increased by nearly 29 million since the 1950s. This trend has recently made us reconsider whether this actually signifies a breakdown of community and an epidemic of loneliness as previously believed. This is particularly significant since over a five year period those living alone are more likely to remain so than any other social group except those married with children. Also, with fewer domestic demands on their lives, those living alone are often more socially active than those who share their homes with others. This also reflects the fact that community in the modern world is often less about geographic location and more about shared interests over a wider area using the internet, transportation and other technologies to connect it. As the article points out, it is rare that people live alone due to financial constraints and it therefore can be argued that living alone is an example of the luxury of choice, with solo dwellers being able to do what they want when they want and structure their lives and explore their own needs according to their requirements.
Your Head is in the Clouds
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Although it may initially seem a little unlikely, evidence shows that our growing reliance on computers, technology and the internet is altering the way our minds function. A recent mutation of a cognitive process known as transactive memory, the process whereby groups divide up memory tasks sharing information if necessary (for example within a family or organisation), means that we are now more likely to think about computers or where we can go to connect to the internet than the answer to a question that we do not know. Experiments have shown that we are actually more likely to commit to memory how to find information than the information itself. One of the disadvantages of this is our need for factual information to support such skills as critical thinking. While we may not yet be in danger of becoming cyborgs, we are delegating the process of our memory to our computers which is dramatically altering the very way that our thought processes work.
Handprints, Not Footprints
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Carbon footprints have become familiar to us in recent years with much emphasis being placed on the effort we all should make to reduce our individual carbon footprints and the damage our continued existence causes to the planet each and every day. But what about the good that we can do and the positive contribution we can make? This was the question considered by Gregory Norris, lecturer at Harvard School of Public Health. He was finding that when they learned how to calculate their life-cycle assessments (LCA) which told them how much carbon their existence would create, his students felt that the world would be better if they had not been born. His response was to devise handprints which represent all the reductions we can make in our carbon footprint. Norris says “LCA were bringing nothing but bad news, telling us every person hurts the planet every day. Something was missing-that we can also benefit the planet. I needed to name these benefits to make them as tangible as footprints. Handprints were a natural choice.” On his website handprinter.org, pledges can be made to increase your carbon handprint and by encouraging others to do the same you can increase your own handprint. Emphasising the positive impact we can have on the planet may even encourage more to act on climate change, Elke Weber a cognitive scientist at Columbia University believes, since it provides us with a positive goal to work towards.
Food that Lasts Forever
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Scientists are devising ways of preserving foods which last for years not days, weeks or months. While many of these are being developed with the needs of NASA and the military in mind, consumers will ultimately see the benefits of this research with fewer trips to the supermarket having a positive impact on their carbon footprint as well as dramatically reducing food waste, an enormous issue throughout the globe. To make food with an extended shelf life it is necessary to control moisture, control the atmosphere and control micro-organisms, and advances are being made in all these areas however the greatest advance is in high-pressure processing (HPP), where the food is sealed in a plastic pouch then 87,000lbs pressure per sq. inch is applied to kill bacteria. In addition to lasting longer, advances in HPP mean that bacteria can be killed without having an impact on taste. “It’s night and day compared to the old heating process. The foods taste like they’re freshly prepared,” says the US Defence department’s Lauren Oleksyk. With the ever-growing world population such technology could become the norm in future. John Floros, head of the food-science department at Penn State University and lead author of the report Feeding the World today and tomorrow says that without such preservation we may fail to feed the world in future: “the problem is that we lose too much food to rot and decay. In developing countries without sophisticated food-distribution and cooling systems the loss is consistently 30% a year and in some places as high as 70%.” With these new advances in preservation, foods such as vegetables meat and fish could last from three to eight years. Although for the mainstream this is far away at present and we will not be free from food waste for the foreseeable future this does provide a very logical and effective solution to the issues of food shortage that we are expecting to face as the global population continues to grow.
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The established belief that the stress experienced by those in poverty lessens as individuals climb the social ladder has been challenged with the discovery that at a certain point the stress of maintaining a lifestyle of a higher social status is leading to what Scott Schieman of the University of Toronto calls “the stress of high status.” He found that “People with higher levels of education and in higher-status occupations and mid to higher income brackets are experiencing higher levels of stressors.” It appears that the pressures of being in demand in the workplace, of constantly needing to look and act right and the interpersonal conflicts that come with power generate levels of stress easily equal to those experienced by individuals on a low income struggling to make ends meet. The recession, which some had hoped would make people less obsessed with status has in fact had the opposite effect, with greater fear of loss spurring many to work and try even harder. This is particularly significant since the sort of individuals who tend to achieve a high status in life are driven, ambitious and devoted to work, the sort of person likely to experience high stress under any circumstances. It seems that the moral of the story may be to be careful what you wish for.
Nature is Over
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The human race has had a colossal influence on the Earth, affecting three-quarters of the ice-free land with 90% of plants grown in human-controlled ecosystems. Our oceans have been depleted by overfishing and we are now at a point where human impact on the planet is greater than any other factor. Scientists now argue that our domination is so absolute that we need to re-specify the period in which we live from the Holocene epoch, in which we have officially lived in since the last ice-age ended, to the Anthropocene epoch: the age of man. “Human dominance of biological, chemical, and geological processes on Earth is already an undeniable reality. It’s no longer us against ‘Nature’. Instead, it’s we who decide what nature is and what it will be,” says Paul Crutzen, the Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist who coined the phrase Anthropocene. Indeed scientists have dubbed the dramatic changes of the last fifty years the Great Acceleration. As countless species become extinct and the increased need for farming to feed our burgeoning numbers intensifies, even what constitutes conservation and environmentalism will have to change. While there are 90,000 more protected areas worldwide since 1950, species are becoming extinct at an almost unprecedented rate. The idea of nature as being separate and prististine, away from the influence of human beings may no longer be a realistic one. As a result, we may need to embrace the sorts of technologies which environmentalists have often opposed such as nuclear power and genetically modified crops. Living in cities instead of a more rural way of life will support this new concept of nature since they are the most efficient and sustainable living option. We may also need to use geoengineering to reduce the earth’s temperature in the face of climate change if the steps we are currently taking do not prove effective enough. Nature, in future, may by necessity have to be what we are able to allow it to be.
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As the global population ages and advances in healthcare allow for greater quality of life in our twilight years, retirement communities are evolving into what is now being called affinity housing which caters for residents with specific interests. For example a community in Tennessee will provide music industry retirees living options which include recording studios and venues for performances, while another, America’s first gay and lesbian retirement community is not yet complete but already half reserved. Yet another type of development are the so-called university-based retirement communities, where residents can study on courses. One, due to open in Chicago this summer is already 80% full. There are 100 communities in the US which cater for the varied needs and interests of their residents. As attitudes to retirement evolve and people wish to be active for as long as possible it is no longer sufficient to provide those of retirement years with a generic solution and consumer choice demands a range of options as in all other aspects of modern life. Niche living therefore is the latest development of the planned retirement community which began in the 1960s. Maybe the next stage will be similar to the one set to open in California in 2015 which will be a community designed to age with its residents, who can join as early as 40 years old. Its architect Matthias Hollwich calls this new aging. Although the global economy is having the effect of slowing the sort of building projects required to realise these new communities, there is sufficient interest already present to suggest that affinity housing is the future for retirement living.
However they may influence your life as an individual, it is clear that these ideas are changing the way many of us live our lives. As the population continues to expand and technology develops, we must embrace the possibilities that all of this allows for. It is also likely that our uncertain future will bring many more changes to the way in which we continue to live on the planet. To read the articles on which this was based in full, visit http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2108054,00.html and follow the links provided on the page.
This article was written by Gillian Amstead and published by Our Future Planet.
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, Sustainable Living and Environment. Extend your knowledge by visiting the Ideas Globe, or view our Hot Topics to find more key articles to discuss. We welcome all of your thoughts, Actions, Projects and Proposals!
Not a Planetary Citizen yet? Join us and Sign up to Our Future Planet today!