Malcolm Gladwell did a live chat session about his article social media and activism, which we've all discussed here on the site. I was struck by one line, which I almost agree with him on: 

"Technology does not and cannot change the underlying dynamics of "human" problems: it doesn't make it easier to love or motivate or dream or convince."

I would say that technology doesn't change the nature of "human" problems, but it does change their dynamics.

On the Gladwell side of things, I like reading translations of very old Chinese poetry precisely because I recognize human problems in them. When Li Po (d. 762) writes, "To wash and rinse our souls of their age-old sorrows / We drained a hundred jugs of wine. / A splendid night it was ... In the clear moonlight we were loath to go to bed," I feel a deep connection with humans all the way back. We get old. We try to reclaim youth. We drink. The night comes to an end.

But it seems ahistorical to deny that the dynamics of human problems don't change. Sure, the sorrows of aging remain (Kurzweil especially), but doesn't snatching an extra couple decades on Earth due to better nutrition, sanitation, and medicine change how humans live the problem of aging? Don't nuclear weapons or a fossil-fuel deranged climate change how people feel existential angst? Don't international mail service, telephones, and Skype shape the way separated lovers interact? Are we doomed to Ecclesiastical feats and repeats -- or do novel things really happen?

Man, I hope so.

In any case, check out historian Susan Douglas' wonderful essay, "How Do New Things Happen?" for a serious, lifelong investigation of this question.

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