On Staying Happy

from the happy-new-year dept

A few weeks ago, we got an email sent to the feedback box that asked how we can possibly stay upbeat. I have to apologize because I can't find the email anymore -- so I don't remember who sent it -- but he pointed out that while he really enjoyed reading Techdirt and liked what we had to say, the stories about corporate cluelessness, political corruption and short-sighted thinking were so consistently frustrating and depressing that there were times he considered giving up on reading Techdirt -- if just to keep himself from banging his head against the wall. He wanted to know how we possibly stayed upbeat, and kept positive enough to avoid giving ourselves heart attacks. I didn't get a chance to email him back, but wanted to address the question here as my final post of 2008.

Techdirt has been going strong since 1997, so it's not like we're new to covering these sorts of things. But, in the end, I personally stay extremely happy and optimistic because I see how far we've come -- and I recognize the inevitable outcome of most of these debates. Yes, we point out plenty of bad stuff, but it's not about complaining about how terrible things are -- but about trying to help open some eyes to the possibilities of moving forward, adapting and embracing new technological possibilities. And, while there are some extremely loud and public holdouts, every day we're seeing examples of it working. We see the inevitable results of technological change in enabling new and powerful business models that greatly expand markets, provide consumers with much more than before, and enable new innovations that you might never have thought were possible before.

The internet is a phenomenal communications tool that very few people had even heard of not so long ago. The world wide web only came into being slightly more than fifteen years ago. The ability to go online and find just about anything you need in seconds is a brand new phenomenon. The fact that you can talk to people, easily, in far away places -- make new connections, share stories, exchange ideas, debate, argue and connect, well beyond your local community -- is all simply amazing. Beyond online communications, the internet has provided new and amazing tools for business, commerce, entertainment and information that were nearly impossible to imagine by all but the most visionary people just a few decades ago.

How can you not be optimistic and excited when you look back at how far we've come in such a short time, and think about how much further we can go?

Yes, we're in the midst of a brutal financial mess -- but that won't stop innovation. Yes, incumbent forces, with short-sighted plans and a desire to hold back the tides are annoying and disruptive (not in a good way) in the short run. But even they are finding they can't hold back progress. Robert Friedel has a wonderful book called A Culture of Improvement that details how we, as a society, are constantly looking to improve on what we already have. We add ideas and ingenuity to old concepts and build something better -- not because of the desire to grab some "intellectual property," but because of the desire to improve our own lot, to build a better tool that we want to use. Incumbent short-sighted players have been able to hinder and harm progress, but they can't keep it down completely. That culture of improvement can't be stopped entirely.

There is, of course, plenty to be vigilant about, of course. Bad and corrupt political moves can seriously stunt economic improvement, but history has shown that such periods are often short-lived, as the need for continued economic growth and advancement is impossible to stomp out completely -- and as it seeps out through the cracks, legacy businesses crumble, and outdated political rules and short-sighted policies are pushed to the side. Yes, more come along, often as the innovators of yesterday seek to stop the innovators of tomorrow, but the march of innovation hasn't been stopped yet.

So, yes, we rant and rage against short-sighted policies, and efforts that hinder and delay the inevitable, but we're excited and optimistic and happy about what we see as the eventual possibilities from that advancement and innovation. Any "anger" or "unhappiness" we might display is more frustration at ourselves for not being able to clearly paint a picture -- for those seeking to hold back progress -- of just what opportunities moving forward provides.

As we move into 2009, there are plenty of things to be worried about, but look around at what progress has brought to us already, and look at the trends and the obvious direction in which technology is taking us -- there's so much to look forward to, it's hard to let any depression seep into the discussion at all.
Happy New Year to all of the many readers of Techdirt, whether you agree with us or disagree with us, and we look forward to seeing what great new things come about in the new year and beyond.

Filed Under: happiness, optimism


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  1. identicon
    Phaltran, 5 Jan 2009 @ 1:16pm

    I used to be optimistic that humanity, as a whole, was getter smarter with every generation and one day we might see world peace, seamless technology and major steps towards the ideals written in sci-fi books and movies.

    I've been working in IT for 25 years now. I've seen history repeat itself, the same mistakes made over and over, people behaving like barbarians over trivial events or things and generally a downward trend in humanity.

    Computers get faster, but applications bring them back down to the same speed of functionality.
    We have many more devices and abilities to communicate, but very few share the same medium or format so we have to use multiple devices to communicate simple messages and so much gets lost in translation.

    Computers were centralized(mainframe), then distributed(PCs), back to centralized (Citrix, VMWare) and heading back towards distributed (cloud) yet are they saving us work or just creating more work to keep the same basic functions operational?

    Automobiles have supposedly improved technologically, yet we're still reliant on fossil fuels, more than ever, and harming our planet at every point that involves a vehicle.

    Doctors used to be trusted individuals of a trusted organization intent on helping people, but now it's all about insurance and trying to solve every ailment with a pill regardless of potential side effects.

    The food in the U.S. is the least healthiest in the world. Only in the U.S. does bread and fruit contain chemicals that are bad for you.

    The legal system has completely forgotten its purpose: to protect people. Instead it's all about making money and helping undeserving people get what they want.

    In general people have simply turned into rabid collectors of information and things. Work and society is so fast-paced that if you can't get it now, then it's worthless by the time you do get it. In the process people are so selfish at getting it now, they'll stomp all over others or cause uproar in getting it.

    People are forgetting how to be people. We're consumers, collectors and technology abusers.

    I've lost so much hope for humanity, I'm beginning to think all those predictions of the world ending in 2012 may come to fruition.

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