Alex Bierach


December 2019

While traveling through India, it occurred to me how many people have suffered or died to teach us what we know today.

Our understanding of bacteria and viruses is a particularly relevant example in the context of traveling to less developed countries.

It seems to me to be part of a larger pattern in history, a pattern of new technologies and human practices being invented and widely adopted before we are aware of their risks.

The risks that bacteria and viruses pose are what they are largely because of generations of urbanization and increased population density. This cultural development created a new context for these organisms to evolve and spread in.

Another example is the practice of cigarette smoking. It ballooned in popularity for several generations (due to technological advances like machine-manufactured cigarettes, safety matches for portable lighting, and mass-marketing campaigns) in the U.S. before the public realized just how harmful it is.

Despite the progress we’ve made in staying healthy (e.g. washing our hands, not smoking), I suspect even the most privileged among us remain unwitting victims of technological advance.

For example, cell phones and other digital technologies are no doubt causing some kinds of adverse outcomes for many of us. Outcomes that may not become clear for several more decades. They may not be direct physical issues like lung-cancer from smoking, but they may be just as perverse (anxiety, depression, social alienation).

I’m not trying to be alarmist, it just seems like an inescapable conclusion that some of what we do today will turn out to actually be quite harmful. Misstepping and correcting from our missteps is an inescapably human experience.

Probably someone 50 years from now will feel indebted to you and I for the pain our mistakes will spare them from.

As it should be I suppose… we must pay it forward!