The Smartest Generation?

I just watched a brief clip of documentary featuring the Timely app founder. At one point, he’s talking about being in Silicon Valley, and he says:

Everything around us — laws, norms or culture — was invented by earlier generations that was nowhere near as smart as our generation is. And there’s something about not accepting to live your life around the limits they invented.

Admittedly, it was a translation from Norwegian (but the subtitles were, I assume, approved), and I understand what he’s trying to say, but I think it’s wrong in a nuanced but important way.

The best minds of earlier generations weren’t less smart or necessarily putting purposeful limits on everything — people have constantly been pushing limits and expanding what we do and how we do it based on what’s available at the time.

Limits are constantly shifting and evolving — every generation inherits certain limits of knowledge and ability that it then pushes and passes on to the next.

The limits our generation inherited seem constraining compared to what we have now and where we’re trying to go, but our achievements are also thanks to the innovations that those same previous generations passed along.

Perhaps our generation is measurably smarter in some ways, or more of our generation is educated, but I think our explosive growth is due more to having more and better resources available than being inherently better or smarter.

Thanks to the internet and computers and smartphones, which about half of everyone on earth has some kind of access to now, we can look up data, ask any question, and learn how to do new things in a matter of clicks.

Thanks to apps like Google Drive and Evernote and email, I can keep track of almost every document I’ve produced in the past decade, and I save notes and articles in searchable formats.

In the past, things only existed in the physical world. There would have to be manually created copies of anything that more than one person wanted — whereas we automatically have mutual records of emails and endless copies of documents made or shared online.

Imagine only having access to the books and paper documents in your home or personal library or in a local office / library / university, having to use limited resources to write out any notes and ideas, investing in certain books and journals for reference, talking only to the people in your community or through personal introduction within your network.

How much slower progress would be made, how much longer it would take for ideas to be shared, how much less collaboration would be possible, how many brilliant minds would never meet?

How can we claim to be smarter when it’s so much easier?

Do I find the innovation and accomplishments of our time inspiring? Absolutely.

But I also find what people have created and improved upon throughout history inspiring — especially because I’m moderately aware of the limits imposed on past generations because of their time’s technology (not to mention war, healthcare, education, etc).

While I admire the creativity and devotion of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to bringing new and improved ideas to fruition, I am concerned when I hear a lack of understanding, appreciation, and respect for existing ideas and contributions.

We may be iterating much faster and having exponential improvements over shorter time frames, but we’re standing on their shoulders and have so many resources available that facilitate that growth.

We may be the smartest generation, but perhaps it’s best to focus on what we’re doing and let the history books to bestow that title upon us instead of claiming it for ourselves.