Hans Rosling, founder of the Gapminder foundation, became famous for his TED presentations about the development of the world in areas such as health, wealth and environment. In those presentations he use Tendalyzer software which made them spectacular and dynamic (see here). They were also surprising in their content. They showed that the world has improved, and is still improving, in many ways. Examples of such improvements are decreasing child mortality, decreasing extreme poverty, better and longer education, especially for women, increase life expectancy, etc.
After having done these kinds of presentations for several years Rosling wanted to test to which degree people had become aware of these improvement trends. He designed surveys with questions about population growth, poverty, literacy, education, deaths through natural disasters, etc. He conducted theses surveys in different countries and found that there is an enormous ignorance in the world about the progress that is being made each year (read more). The answers that were given were not only wrong. They were very wrong. In many cases people scored worse on these tests that when they would have made blind guesses. According to Rosling, chimps would have performed better!
This is an important issue. Many people think they live in a world which is much more static and problematic than is actually true. The world, is actually much less problematic and making more progress that many people think. Many people not only are too pessimistic about the world; their view is demonstrably unrealistic.
The situation is paradoxical and ironic. That there is so much progress on so many issues in the world suggests that many people are making great efforts to establish these improvements. At the same time many people are unaware of actual improvements that are made. This could undermine future progress. Seeing problems which are not there can lead to unjustified feelings of alarm and to focusing ones energy in the wrong direction. And not being aware of the progress that is already there can lead to unjustified defeatism.
Let's change our mindset about the world. Here are a few rules of thumb which may help:
- Most things in the world are improving
- Inequality in the world is decreasing
- There is also social progress in poorer countries
- Many things we fear are less important than we think.