Facebooking While Rome Burns

I’m an optimist, I really am, especially when it comes to technology and its ability to transform the world. But today I can’t shake the feeling that we as a species are really screwing up. Guess what? “There is no hope of saving the global coral reef ecosystem.” How’s that for depressing?

Meanwhile, even those few scientists who previously doubted that climate change was human-caused are increasingly conceding that global warming is a) very real b) our fault — and yet, “the American public has grown increasingly skeptical.”

What do coral extinction, global warming, and global finance have in common? All are screwed up beyond all recognition, and given our current geopolitical systems, all are beyond all hope of repair. To which the innovator’s response should be: disrupt the system! But of course there’s no money in that. The system is, pretty much by definition, built to distribute money to those who perpetuate it.

Still, despite that defense mechanism, there’s money to be made in changing the world. Elon Musk is doing it twice over with Tesla and SpaceX. I believe Google’s Glass and self-driving cars, among other products of the “Google X” lab reportedly headed up by Sergey Brin, will both become huge money-minting markets. But note that both Musk and Brin were already enormously successful. How many truly ambitious founders who haven’t already hit home runs ever get to step up to the plate?

Despite the billions and billions of venture capital dollars wafting around looking for investments, I can’t hardly think of any. People–including me–complain about how everybody’s launching meaningless sugar-water startups, but to be fair, I bet a lot of those founders would in fact rather be working on something more important and significant. They aren’t doing so because they believe they first need to build their Instagram and cash out à la Brin and Musk.

They may well be right. But only a tiny minority of a tiny minority will succeed. So much talent and so much effort spent–wasted, really–building meaningless gamified SoLoMo apps, while around us an entire global ecosystem is already effectively dead, and more are queueing up to follow.

Or, as William Gibson, technology’s poet laureate, recently put it:

To an extent I disagree. I don’t think fear or malevolence are the fundamental problem. I think the problem is that we’ve built a geopolitical system whose eddy currents have evolved into runaway feedback loops that the system is not equipped to handle. Worse yet, the few people who do want to disrupt the system, eg the Occupy movement, have very little in common with the innovators and visionaries who could maybe actually improve things.

I hate to be a downer on this sunny Saturday morning, but despite the enormous wealth, resources, and knowledge of our age, despite Moore’s Law and our ever-multiplying marvels of technology, it’s hard to see a happy ending for the world’s coral reefs, and hard to imagine that they’ll be the last of our world’s treasures to go down in flames on our watch.

Image credit: Patrick Hoesly, Flickr.