Watching soccer and celebrating planetary-scale achievements

I was watching the World Cup live on my laptop during breakfast today when I was struck by the massive achievements underlying this simple activity.

The players in Capetown are 7,800 miles (12,600 km) away from my NYC apartment (as the albatross flies, following the curved surface of the planet: see Google Earth image). Only 200 years ago on a fast clipper ship sailing 16.7 mph, it would have taken 19.5 days for information to travel that distance.  Driving a similar distance non-stop at 60 mph would take 5.4 days.  But now I can watch a goal being scored in almost real time (it only takes light, which is slightly faster than the transmitted signals, 0.042 seconds to travel that distance in a vacuum) while eating a bowl of oatmeal.

Not only have we developed the technology to send these signals around the world, but we have built the infrastructure to carry them, we have developed the legal and institutional machinery necessary to support and organize such massive infrastructure investments, and we have implemented an economic system that rewards individuals for doing all of the above.  Moreover, the information isn't just traveling from Capetown to my breakfast table, but to a few billion breakfast/lunch/dinner tables around the world.

It's easy to get down on humanity when you're focused on our mistakes and shortcomings, but sometimes its worth it to step back and celebrate our achievements.  We've come a long way from where we once were.

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