2001 : WHAT QUESTIONS HAVE DISAPPEARED?

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Founder, The Whole Earth Catalog; Co-founder, The Well; Co-Founder, The Long Now Foundation; Author, Whole Earth Discipline
How will Americans handle a surplus of leisure?

"How will Americans handle a surplus of leisure?"

That was a brow-furrower in the late '50s and early '60s for social observers and forecasters. Whole books addressed the problem, most of them opining that Americans would have to become very interested in the arts. Turned out the problem never got around to existing, and the same kind of people are worrying now about how Americans will survive the stress of endless multi-tasking.

"Can the threat of recombinant DNA possibly be contained?"

That was the brand new bogey of the mid-'70s. At a famous self regulating conference at Asilomar conference center in California, genetic researchers debated the question and imposed rules (but not "relinquishment") on the lab work. The question was answered: the threat was handily contained, and it was not as much of a threat as feared anyway. Most people retrospectively applaud the original caution. Similar fears and debate now accompany the introduction of Genetically Modified foods and organisms. Maybe it's the same question rephrased, and it will keep being rephrased as long as biotech is making news. Can the threat of frankenfoods possibly be contained? Can the threat of gene-modified children possibly be contained? Can the threat of bioweapons possibly be contained? Can the threat of human life extension possibly be contained?

It won't be a new question until it reaches reflexivity: "Are GM humans really human?"

STEWART BRAND is founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, cofounder of The Well, cofounder of Global Business Network, cofounder and president of The Long Now Foundation. He is the original editor of The Whole Earth Catalog, author ofThe Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT , How Buildings Learn, and The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility (MasterMinds Series).