Sendero is Back: The Computer Age

By David Galland
May 2017

Dear Sendero,

It has been a long time since our last posting, with many miles of trails covered in the interim.

As some of you will know, after putting Sendero on hiatus, I shifted my energies to writing The Passing Parade, which was much the same, albeit from a different address.

With The Passing Parade now passed, it is my intention to once again periodically use Sendero to share some ideas and adventures from the trail of life.

It has been a good year, full of new adventures here in the Argentine outback. Since writing the last edition, I have started a restaurant, Bad Brothers Wine Experience, which has met with considerable success in its short life.

In addition to my work in the publishing businesses (Mauldin Economics and RiskHedge.com) I am also up to my ears in two wine businesses, both of which are focused on high and extreme altitude terroirs. In a future post, I’ll go into a bit more detail on these wines, made from some of the highest vineyards in the world, but only because I find the topic fascinating and the wines truly special.

Today, however, I want to comment a bit on a defining feature of our modern era: the ubiquitous presence of computers.

The Computer Age

There is no doubt the rise of computers triggered a global paradigm shift. It started with being able to store, process and access information more quickly, but quickly evolved in a self-propagating fashion to touch virtually every corner of human activity.

Today, almost everyone in the world is just seconds away from an electronic screen. And that electronic screen, thin as a hair, contains in its depths the most awesome and wonderful things.

There are photos of families and friends, and not just photos you or they have taken, but photos arriving in all but real time from around the world. Likewise, there is a steady stream of messages pouring in for you to review and respond to, with the choice of applications to use in your instantaneous communications growing with every day.

Then there are the games. Rich, vibrant, exciting, well thought out and meticulously crafted games with the power to make you eschew every other activity, save the essentials, in order to play them for hours on end. There are families who team up to keep a character in a game 24/7.

For those of us from the pre-computer age, much of this fascination with computers in all their many iterations, seems to us to be an ill-advised addiction. Sure, they have their place and purpose, but in truth that place and purpose should consume no more than, say, 15 minutes a day, leaving the rest of the day for healthful exercise, self-improving studies, pursuing careers and so forth.

As the poster child of the problem with the computers we would nominate the iconic couple sitting across from each other on a date, both staring pie-eyed at their smart phones, oblivious to each other and even to the room they sitting in. How romance, or even reproduction, survives this new world is mystifying to us.

Yet, to be fair, throughout history - modern and ancient alike - we find the steady opening of generational gaps where the leading generation finds itself increasingly lost at sea when contemplating the actions of the generations following it.

A relatively recent example is the soldier returned from World War II. These soldiers endured incredible hardships and danger, and witnessed things that no person should see, yet while still young witnessed their children and grandchildren evolve into pot smoking, free-loving hippies.

Their sense of societal dismay would be no less acute than that I now experience watching a child of mine spend up to eight hours or more starting at, or interacting with, an electronic counsel for no purpose other than self-amusement.

Is there useful information being imparted, even tangentially, in these steady electronic interactions? I suppose.

For example, gamers use previously unheard of mental and tactile acuity in game play, pulling down sub-menus, aiming, firing, reloading, pulling down another sub-menu to change weapons or another to load special armor, all done without hesitation at a lightning-fast speed. No prior generation possessed this ability.

That has to count for something, somewhere, at some time.

As to the “somewhere” - the whole concept of physical presence has changed with the new paradigm. Sure, my son is sitting ten feet away from me, but his actions are being accounted for in powerful servers around the world, and the friends he communicates with in real time, a 1,000 miles away.

Yet, the downsides are there to see, too. The lack of exercise, a human essencial, will, in time, make itself known in potentially very negative ways. Likewise the lack of intimate physical contact. We humans tend to do best in caring relationships. Or, at least that’s the way it used to be. According to one recent study, the younger millennials - those born in the 1990s - are “more than twice as likely to be sexually inactive in their early 20s as the previous generation”.

The Future?

Who can tell. We as individuals cannot turn the clock back on the paradigm: it will run its course until it is replaced by something else. Perhaps my children were simply unfortunate at being born when they were, at the advent of the new age of self-indulgence made possible by the rise of the computers.

Or, perhaps, the years of their births were the most advantageous in the history of humanity. That they were born on the cusp of a world where computers eliminate all poverty and the need of most to hold jobs.

That world could be as close in time as the creation of the first practical quantum computer, and the invention of 3-D printed food, clothing, shelter and tools using carbon and other basic building block materials. All of that is currently in the works and, given the exponential advances in computational power, readily within the grasp of humanity.

In such a world, finding new ways to stimulate and entertain the masses would become the world’s largest industry.

The alternative scenario is that the world will slowly start to remember the joys of human contact and long walks on beaches -- real beaches, not electronically rendered ones -- and a new paradigm will evolve that elevates the value of the tangible over the virtual.

I can’t know, none of us can. So for the time being we have to follow our individual instincts as to how to live the most fulfilled life, all the while hoping for the best.

And “the best” I can personally hope for in this scenario is that I am out of touch with the new paradigm and that a wonderful new world will soon emerge.

Sure hope so.

Other Reading

This week I wrote an article for RiskHedge.com called "The Impervious Imperial Economy" then sat for an interview on the topic.

My theme is fairly controversial and, for some, will seem Pollyannish or worse. That's because I make the case that the odds of any significant economic collapse, or pretty much any other dire outcome, in the United States is almost impossible given the imperial levels of power that the U.S. government has taken unto itself.

I support the argument with some pretty interesting facts. You can read the full article, and listen to the podcast by following the link here.

That's it for now.

Until next time, happy trails!

David Galland
Cafayate, Argentina
May 25, 2017

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