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New Problems?

Prose

Find Silvano D'Agostino's online prose.

New Problems?

Silvano D'Agostino

Some time early last semester, it must’ve been September or October, but it feels like forever ago, a few other students and I had the opportunity to have lunch with the very interesting Jill Lepore. Many different questions were addressed, amongst them and most interesting to me disruption theory and Professor Christensen’s work. At some point in the conversation, Lepore said the following:

“Very few problems are actually new.”
~Jill Lepore

Recently I read a great critical essay on Marxist historians and how they supposedly shape evidence to fit their theories, rather than building their theories based on the evidence. I am far from a history nut, though I do see value in looking at the past to assess the present and smartly make predictions about the future. Still, I haven’t quite been able to let Lepore’s statement go — it’s been on my mind a lot; I agree with it in a way, yet I want to scream bloody in another.

Clearly, there is a point to be made about problems re-appearing all throughout history. Take Western value-based intervention in crisis regions — hasn’t been going so well, has it[1]? Yet we continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Patterns in politics, both domestically and international, are easy to establish.

Contrarily, however, I am a great believer in the idea that no generation after my grandparents’ has/will grow(n) up with the same technology as their parents. Undoubtedly, new technology leads to new problems[2]. Suddenly direct democracy gets a lot easier, suddenly information, false and correct, flows everywhere very quickly.

The further in you zoom in, the more differentiated problems become. On a very grand human race scale, sure, no problem is overly new, very few truly novel ideas are to be had — execution is the truly interesting part. On a multi-generational, never mind a uni-generational scale, however, problems are very much novelties; many of my generation will not know how to deal with their children’s or grandchildren’s technology. That’s a very real and somewhat scary problems, particular after having just recorded a podcast on robots in movies


  1. This is disregarding the prime example many like to forget in this context: Germany post-WW II. Arguably Nazi Germany is an edge case, but regardless, it’s one counterexample to many.  ↩

  2. And I’m not talking which  Watch band to get — although that’s killing me as well. I’m talking big societal changes that are more or less suddenly creating entirely new problems and that bring with them entirely new solutions to both new and old problems.  ↩