Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Living In Ordinary Times?

I attended Catholic Mass while visiting family members this weekend, and I was intrigued by the following statement from the pulpit: “this is the 33rd Sunday in ordinary time”. The phrase ordinary time as used here refers to a particular segment of the church calendar year (i.e. It’s not advent, lent, etc.). But it raised the bigger question about whether we’re living in "ordinary times” in a larger historical sense. Would we classify the last 6 months as an extraordinary time in history, or as more of an unremarkable ordinary time? Have we lived through a temporary lull this summer between recent storms of change, and what will come next? Perhaps. How would you classify the last half of this decade?

The people I discussed this with typically thought we were living in extraordinary times in general, and have been doing so for their entire life. That led to the humorous observation that we often believe an extraordinary period of human history began roughly at the time of our own birth. Such is human nature.

This is characteristic of exponential rates of change. The most recent period of history will always seem to be experiencing much more substantial rates of change than previous times, and will therefore seem to be an extraordinary time. Make no mistake about it; we are living in a time of exponential growth, exponential rates of scientific and technological development, and perhaps exponential rates of social change as well. We are living in an extraordinary time. There is an important aspect of exponential curves that we cannot forget though. If they continue, the rate of change in the coming decades will be even greater than it is today. There is every reason to believe that this in fact will happen. So while we are living in extraordinary times compared to previous history, it is likely that the historical impact of the coming decades will be even more significant than what we’re experiencing now.

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