Humanity’s Main Challenges

Not Knowing How to Ask Questions

Stephen Bau
Feb 6, 2018 · 6 min read
See yourself through the eyes of another. Photo by Luca Iaconelli on Unsplash.

@bauhouse what do you consider to be humanity’s main challenges? bit.ly/TEDxSP2018

I was just asked a question by TEDx Stanley Park. I was surprised how the question has taken me aback. I think it surprised me because I have never been personally asked this question, and I didn’t have an answer, because I had never really thought about it. And I realized that this is our main challenge. We think about the particular without considering the universal.

I have been part of a social identity whose primary characteristic is a core belief in answers that were given millennia ago to questions of identity.

Yet we continue to ask these questions:

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Some claim to have the answers. Many believe their claims.

Self-Deception

Humans create fictions. Then we believe them.

This happens in the same way that our relationship to technology is both a defining characteristic of humanity, but also a means of defining our own reality.

We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.

A conspiracy theorist is the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. The most pressing questions on the minds of that nation is over whose conspiracy theory most closely matches with reality.

We believe what we want to believe rather than what is actually true about reality. Very often, that belief is defined by our social identity.

Our social identity is a social group’s answer to Gauguin’s questions: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Once a group has defined the answers, the group will resist those who question the authority of their group.

However, much of our knowledge can be argued to be fictions.

  • Race is a fiction created by racists
  • Religion is a fiction written by believers
  • Money is a fiction created by economists
  • Corporations are fictions created by property owners and lawyers
  • Nations are fictions created by nationalists
  • Power is a fiction created by rulers and politicians
  • History is a fiction written by victors

Let Me Google That For You

Let Me Google That For You
Let Me Google That For You: what are humanity’s main challenges?

A Design Critique

From a design point of view, the answers that Google offers don’t begin to answer the question of what humanity’s main challenges are for most people on this earth. As a User Experience Designer, I need to start with empathy for the people who use technology to help them find what they are looking to technology to solve for them.

Problems

  • Advertising messages are more prominent than the intended message.
  • The answers are all in English, communicating a bias toward a North American point of view.
  • The question itself results in a list of problems, rather than solutions.
  • Looking to technology for answers reinforces a fear of technology.
  • In the same way that technology overwhelms us with too much information, the 552,000 results that Google offers is overwhelming and the top answer contains an ad that obscures the message.
  • The image that stands out the most is the mushroom cloud from a nuclear blast, raising the fear level.
  • The fourth result is from Activist Post, with the tagline, “Alternative News & Independent Views.” It offers up a list of conspiracy theories.
  • Most people don’t have access to a high-speed internet connection or a computer.
  • The answers are fragmented, incomplete answers that fundamentally lack the quality and comprehensiveness that might be required to respond to such important questions.
  • The unintended consequence of technology is to trivialize and overlook the underlying assumptions that we make about our lives, so that we are overwhelmed by the immediate, the novel, and the particular and have difficulty grasping the long-term, the ancient, and the universal.

Humanity’s Main Challenge

We have created systems of language, education, economics, religion, politics, communication, transportation, and military technology that we have been taught to willingly accept as the reality of life on earth.

How can we answer the fundamental questions when we don’t take the time to ask them?

The short answer:

Not knowing how to question

Humanity’s main challenge is our unwillingness to challenge our social identities and our own assumptions and question the reality (or fictions) we have created for ourselves.

Instead of working together, we alienate other people because of their difference in skin color, race, beliefs, wealth, or anything that doesn’t resemble our beliefs and notions.

The biggest problem we have is accepting each other’s differences.

— Lance Stevenson on Quora

In that sense, our main challenge is inertia. We boldly go where we have already gone before, just with more technology and at scale. That should give us reason to pause and consider the unintended consequences of what we are doing because of the exponential effect of continuing on the course we are on.

The fictions that we tell ourselves carry more weight than the reality we are facing.

Question everything.

Then reimagine our common life together.

Stephen Bau

Written by

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design. https://stephenbau.com

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