The best time in history

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Someone my age told me recently that they felt we were living the best time. 100 years ago, most jobs were way harder because we didn’t have personal computers, and even “simple” calculations like √(28475 * 272795) could take a very long time to do. Nowadays, I literally can just type “square root of (28475*272795)” into google and I get the answer in less than a second. If I don’t have access to a computer, my phone can still give me the answer almost instantly, and that’s a very simple calculation compared to the sheer power of this kind of pocket calculator.

Both the person I was talking to and me are the types of people who hate physical work. I do sports just to stay healthy, but I would hate to do it 8 hours a day. I know that if I had been raised in a society where there aren’t any easy alternatives, I’d think differently, but that’s not the point.

100 years into the future, while we may very well have even better technology and believe 2000s life to be hard, we also have a fairly good chance of having way fewer nice nature zones. Great landscapes could be gone, and most expectations of the future either picture a devasted landscape, or cities everywhere, depending on if you’re pessimistic or optimistic. Either way, some of those gorgeous landscapes will disapear forever.

Nowadays, we have an actual real chance of visiting another planet and colonizing it, thanks to SpaceX. But as soon as humanity becomes multiplanetary, civilization-wide instant communication is expected to become impossible. The speed of light is pretty likely to be the maximum possible speed according to our understanding of physics. At least, we aren’t even close to finding a theoretical way to go faster, and we couldn’t find any signs of the existence of anything faster yet. Every single transmission and communication, no matter the medium, will go at or slower than the speed of light. On Earth, this means that even suboptimal communication can easily reach anywhere on the planet under a second.

Venus is the closest planet to the Earth. When they are the closest, Venus and Earth are about 2.12 light minutes away from each other. Their furthest is 14.5 light minutes, with an average distance of 9.45 light minutes. Mars is further, with 4-24 light minutes range (average: 13).

What this means is that there can be a planet-wide internet, but if we want a multiplanetary internet, any communication between two computers on different planets will take more than two minutes to reach its destination. That’s obviously still a lot faster than sending letters, but as soon as we become multiplanetary, we can say goodbye to the idea of instant communication with anyone. We won’t be able to Skype, play online games, or do anything with someone on even the closest planet if the activity can’t stand a several minutes-long delay between evey action. Written chat will still be possible, but probably way less popular and work more like email.

Oh, and also, the communication will be infinitely less reliable. Wifi is already less reliable than ethernet, and we sit literally meters away from the modem. Now we’ll make some sort of wireless signal over a distance of 250 000 000 kilometers. Every time a data packet is sent and ends up corrupted, it will take several minutes to know there was a mistake, and again several minutes to send it back.

This may sound weird to people who aren’t studying computers, so I’ll explain a bit.

When information is sent on a network, it comes in the form of several packets one after the other. Several protocols are in place to try to figure out when a packet has a mistake in it. When it does, the receiver tells the sender, and the sender just sends it once again.

Several factors are in play when figuring out the reliability of a connection. The transmision medium (cable, radio, etc), the speed of the connection (the faster it is, the more errors there are), noise, etc. With a 54Mbps connection on Wi-fi across a room’s distance, you can usually expect more than 50% of the packets to be completely lost in transmission, and less than 1% of messages come through completely clean without needing to resend anything.


Now imagine when the room is replaced by 250 million kilometers. The delays would be way more than a few minutes unless we really step up our network tech.

Okay, this was a very long explanation. My point is that, if (and that’s a big if) we colonize Mars in the next few decades, like SpaceX is planning to, we may very well be living in the only time in history where we are able to instantly and effortlessly communicate with any other person. This might be literally the only few decades that it will be possible to start up a game and play with anyone across human civilization.

I think that most people past and present thought that they were living through the best time in history. Every generation has been the first to try some sort of technology making their lives a little bit easier than the ones right before, and as they couldn’t know in advance what the next tech would be, and they were happy, they probably assumed that any extra tech was completely unnecessary. I’d bet that at least one in ten people at any point in history (except obvious exceptions, like a jew in a concentration camp) living their lives would have thought they were living through the ideal time. I guess that’s the kind of fallacy thinking that I could experience.

I still can’t shake that feeling that the incredible thing that is the internet will soon be not so incredible anymore, and we literally won’t have a way to make the internet great again.

I’d suggest making the most out of it while it’s there and still impressive.

PS: Obviously, as I’ve said here, we might also be living in one of the worst times in history, where population division is extremely high and we might bomb ourselves into extinction or technological stalemate soon. But those are big Ifs, just like Mars colonization. Let’s hope for the best!