We are living in a time of many fast changes. Never before have things changed as quickly as they do now. There is more than one cause for this; firstly, the development of technology, which has affected not only technical matters but also society and inter-personal relationships; in addition there is a breakdown of tradition: old social institutions such as the family, notions like obedience and acceptance, and even modern ideas like nationalism. Newspapers are busier and bulkier than ever before: there is always something new happening, mostly smaller or bigger scandals on every possible level. All in all, life seems to be rushing in a much faster pace.
There are still quite a lot of people who remember times when life, even when it was far less comfortable or full of fear and oppression, was nevertheless stable: people lived for ages in the same places, conducted the same life-style and made a living in the same traditional ways. Now all that is changing not only in ultra-modern countries, but also in many under-developed countries that do not as yet have either technology or media.
Many of us find these constant, ongoing changes quite tiring. A certain measure of change and adventure is good, for a while; but an unceasing race with endless unexpected turns and surprises is exhausting. Thus not only older people, who have a tendency to look back and glorify the past, but also young people feel that life is moving way too fast. But nobody seems to be able stop this; on the contrary: people feel that they have no choice but to join the race. And so everybody is running, everyone's life is like a thriller or an adventure movie – and nobody is too happy about it.
This, however, is the external side of things. If we ever get a chance to glance out of this roller coaster of our lives, we will see the same dreary scenery all over: houses, trees, people – everything looks the same. Speed blurs any sense of novelty, because when everything moves so fast, it is impossible to have a real, satisfying look at anything, to complete any kind of work, or even to have a thorough enjoyment.
In addition to the blur, the speedy changes also create a great amount of repetition. For instance: a great scandal, such as the downfall of somebody big and important, occurs; but before we have the time to savor the immoral glee of witnessing such an event another scandal occurs, and another one, so that even a life full of scandals is but a different sort of commonplace existence. Similarly, vacations are often a time in which people rush from one place to another, from East to West to North to South, or go on tours or safaris – and are still bored, albeit in a different way. Changes may be objective and tangible, events may really happen, and still there is this feeling of a lack of real change.
Why is that? There must be a deeper reason for this sense of stagnation and boredom. Events are events, they are external to us; the question is, do they register within us? While the outside world may change considerably, the inside of human beings changes far less. People today have vehicles and lots of other implements that they never had before; they have means of communication and sources of information that did not exist in the world until now; but human nature has remained basically the same as it has ever been. While our forefathers may have dressed differently and had different means of commuting from one place to another, the essential character and personality of human beings has not really changed.
What really erodes the novelty of new things, then, is the immutability of human nature. Today we have today the exact same problems and questions that people had 5,000 years ago – and also the same lack of adequate answers. This is true for the fundamental issues that the ancient philosophers dealt with as well as for the more common things, such as our ways of life or emotions. The problems facing individuals living in a society are the same problems for cave dwellers and for the inhabitants of sky-scrapers: people meet each other and have to work out their disagreements and no one has yet found a charm for obtaining those things we crave most, such as friendship, closeness, trust.
It therefore makes little difference if my opponent holds a spear, a machine gun, or a portfolio full of papers: enemies are always enemies, and friends are hard to come by. Human vices, such as envy, also have not changed much. In objective terms, today's poor may be far less poor than they were 1,000 years ago; but they still envy those who have more than they. Today's rich find out, as rich people always have, that a more comfortable life is not necessarily a happier one.
Thus we may today have more information, or different kinds information, than in the past; but this does not make our minds better or brighter. There still is the same gap between a few wise people, the majority of stupid people and a large number of mediocre ones, and that is something that even the best kind of education cannot change. The fool of olden times, who could not work out how to handle his bow and arrow, is now bungling with his computer; but all the rest is just as it has ever been.
Our problems, then, have remained the same because, fundamentally, we still want exactly the same things: external objects such as new cars or fancy clothing, and internal things such as love, the desire to advance, or the strength to cope with loss. Therefore, whatever the amount of changes in the world around us is, it really matters very little. We may have more trinkets to keep usbusy; but we are still exactly the same kind of people, with the same basic drives and quests.
So there is really not much new: the great changes that occur today, such as countries that are torn apart or unite, happened also in the past, albeit on a smaller scale. Cruelty and murder have not been obliterated by any modern invention; they have just changed their external manifestations. And the fulfillment of the age-old dream of peace and rest does not seem closer, but rather much more remote.
The only real changes in this world of unceasing mutability are the subjective ones, and not the objective ones. In other words: a person who changes will perceive change; but when a person is not changed, nothing will really change. And so, despite the speed of events, the novelty and the newness, we inadvertently face the same basic questions: the passage of time, our finiteness, the fact that most of us will not be remembered as individuals and that even whole societies will eventually be wiped out.
All those things that are time-bound, life-bound, have not changed. An expensive gourmet dish in a lavish restaurant will never be as tasty as a meal eaten after two days of fasting. The joys of a very posh fourth wedding will never be as satisfactory as the smile of someone we love. If there is any hope for change, people must turn to the only thing that can indeed make a difference: themselves.