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Where are the 'wows'?
by Asa Butcher
Issue 15
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July 21, 1969: A small family sits in silence around their black and set television set in a town just outside London; it is approaching 0147. The images on the screen are difficult to make out clearly, but the sound is audible. After years of anticipation everybody is in awe of what is unravelling before them, the tension fills the room as the fuel begins to run dangerously low and then Neil Armstrong says, "Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Three and a half decades later NASA successfully lands two probes on Mars, but families across the globe are not sat around their plasma television sets watching in amazement. What has happened to us? Mankind sending a probe to another planet is an incredible technological leap, but it seems as though it was not big enough to keep the world's collective attention longer than a segment on the news.

Every day we hear of another advance in technology in all areas of life, we are informed of another disease being tamed, but none of makes us stop what we are doing and say, 'wow'. The speed of information is stopping us from absorbing these monumental breakthroughs leaving us apathetic to it all. Talk of cloning and cures for AIDS leaves us thinking 'it's about time' and 'why did it take so long?'

We fail to comprehend the significance of these scientific discoveries; we just absorb them into our daily lives by buying the latest mobile telephone with its built-in ironing board and Geiger counter. We have even been desensitised to the value of money with recent estimates that the cost of the war in Iraq could be well over $1 trillion, an amount that has no perspective, no reality, you can't even visualise the amount of schools and hospitals that could build.

The two televised wars against Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan have left many indifferent to the grim realities of war, especially when we see corpses while eating our dinner. Where are the massive protests seen during the Vietnam War? Where are the thousands of passionate anti-war campaigners demonstrating against the governments involved? One annual march against Bush, Blair and the war feels lightweight, plus if it rains on the day then numbers drastically drop - the British miners in the 1980s managed bigger demonstrations alone.

'What is the point?' many of us ask and this apathy is running through all aspects of our life. A recent environmental report announced that a quarter of the world's plant and vertebrate animal species will face extinction by 2050, but most of us reply, 'And?' The Green Party seems to have given up all hope, they collected signatures in a letter addressing fellow MPs, which isn't much when campaigning against a fifth nuclear power plant in the year marking the twentieth anniversary of Chernobyl.

Global warming, sweatshops, globalisation and more have been accepted by the majority because if governments really wanted to instigate change then they would have passed a law immediately. In the wake of the terror attacks on America and London, both countries rapidly invested billions, created new laws designed to combat terrorism and threaten our basic human rights, yet abject poverty and deteriorating health systems are prevalent in both these countries and nothing significant has ever happened.

We have resigned ourselves to being helpless, toothless in the face of government and globalisation. McDonalds has spread across the globe, Bill Gates does monopolise the computer industry, what can we do about it and why should we care anyway? The world is hardening our cynicism, eroding our trust and numbing our disappointment, plus we are suffering from the mindset: it's not my problem.

The past was no better, but thanks to distorted nostalgia people can remember the past as they wanted it to be and the danger with that is some try to replicate the past. Elvis Presley may have been the king in the '70s, but my generation are offered the impersonators, and Live Aid was a moment in time, while Live 8 was a poor diluted copy.

Heroes become villains, like Michael Jackson, and villains become heroes, like New Labour in Britain; history is turned on its head as the past is idealised, becoming mythical in nature. Margaret Thatcher is now Tony Blair, Richard Nixon is now George W. Bush, which shows that we do not learn from the past forever condemned to repeat our mistakes.

Too young to remember the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana, old enough to watch her funeral; missed man on the moon, but saw the space shuttle Challenger explode; Concorde is retired and hundreds have climbed Mount Everest; what is left to amaze, except death? Catastrophes always capture our attention with the World Trade Center attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean Earthquake, but we feel like macabre voyeurs watching them on our plasma TV screens from the comfort and safety of our living rooms.

The magnitude of natural phenomena, such as the Northern Lights and the Grand Canyon, are vastly reduced after appearing in the media countless times that when we actually go we already have an imagined experience; the moment is watered down and a disappointment. On the other hand, we have areas of natural beauty that are in danger of vanishing forever, such as the Australian Coral Reef, so huge numbers of tourists visit before they vanish thereby contributing more to the criminal damage against our planet.

Our children may only be able to see an elephant in a history book soon, they will become legends like the dinosaurs, but at least they will enjoy the benefits of cloning, two-hour flights from UK to New Zealand, cures for cancer and AIDS, and computers that may finally be as fast as we demand of them. Perhaps they may reach a saturation point and stop, a five-minute respite to realize what the world has achieved and say, 'wow.'

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