What is an advanced society?

As I was reading “Endymion,” I was thinking about what we would consider an advanced society.  In the book, it takes place more than 200 years after “The Fall of Hyperion.”  In the previous book, everything was incredibly advanced from our point of view, but go ahead to “Endymion,” and not much has advanced technologically.  Religion has also taken over completely.

I then thought about today’s technology.  Just a few years ago, iPhones would have been considered advanced, like it’s from science fiction.  When I was a kid, I had a Speak and Spell, which I was very impressed with at the time.  Now, it’s extremely outdated and very simple.  The advances we have made in the past 25 to 30 years alone have been quite big.  The Internet, computers, cell phones, GPS, commercial space travel, digital TV, hybrid cars, all were just a dream at one time, something from science fiction.  Now, they’re commonplace and very ordinary.

Then I started thinking about what makes a truly advanced society?  We can have advanced technology, but has society matured?  I really wonder.

I’ll take a quick look at the two countries I’ve lived in.  In Canada, I’ve always thought we had a high tech society, on par with the best.  I don’t question that at all, but it seems a lot of people have rather old cars.  Used cars are big business, as they’re more affordable.  But they’re more likely to break down and are not as environmentally friendly.  I’ve also thought that it’s taken a while for car navigation systems to become standard equipment, as they are in Japan.  Japan is often considered by people to be highly advanced and futuristic.  That is most certainly false.  While Japan is a leader in technology, what you do find here is that there’s a lot of old stuff.  You can find an old house that looks like it’s going to fall apart right next to a brand-new skyscraper.  The houses in Japan have poor insulation and are cheaply built.  Most of the time, when a family moves out of a house, it’s torn down and another is built in its place.  Constant renewal of houses.  But the new ones are often built quickly and are prefabricated.  They’re flexible and safe during an earthquake, but winter is uncomfortably cold inside.  But you can’t beat heated toilet seats in winter.  Japan is also behind on adopting computers in the workplace.  Banks use computers, but most work is still done on paper.  It’s inefficient and incredibly low tech.  Japan has amazing technology, though.  Robotics, efficient train system, and electronically controlled bathtubs and toilets are some examples, but Japan is behind in banking, wi-fi, and wheelchair accessibility.

Technology doesn’t make society, though.  Is there a truly advanced society in the world?  One where social problems are completely taken care of, military service is not required, or total equality for all has been achieved?  I don’t think so.  Let’s look at a couple of the problems that my example countries have.  Canada has a poor environmental record, made worse by the Harper administration.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been held in contempt of parliament before, yet he was still re-elected.  Something wrong there.  The 2010 G20 riots in Toronto showed extremely poor judgment and criminal behaviour by the police.  The riots in Vancouver following the Stanley Cup loss last year showed how immature people can be.  Obviously not advanced, is it?  People were behaving like children.

How about Japan?  Japan can’t even find a Prime Minister that the people like, not since Junichiro Koizumi.  It seems that there’s a new Prime Minister every year.  The government can’t even address the declining population and aging problem.  They make it prohibitively expensive to raise a child with little help for people who can’t get a spot in public day care for their children because there are so few available.  It’s difficult for a mother to even find a job, because they believe they’re most likely going to be temporary staff.  Japanese business culture is completely screwed up.  Businesspeople are required to stay late after an inefficient use of their time because they can’t leave before the boss leaves.  They can’t spend much time with their own children.  It’s become a hassle for people to have children, so they choose not to.  Police also like to target foreigners, even though they haven’t done anything.  Chinese residents are often considered the most likely culprits for any crimes that have been done.  None of this sounds advanced to me.

Let’s look around the world.  Governments seem to behave like children.  Petty squabbles, religious bigotry, and grudges that go back decades cloud the minds of these so-called adults.  Life in Star Trek’s version of Earth seems pretty nice.  I’d like to live there.

But of course, in fiction, without these problems, we wouldn’t have a very good story, would we?

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