Cities: How crowded life is changing us

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More than half the world’s population are concentrated in urban areas, and this is having an effect not just culturally, but biologically too. And advances in technology are adding an entirely new dimension to people’s lives.


Imagine a city of the future. Do you see clean streets, flying cars and robots doing all the work? Or something less rosy?

Cities cover just 3% of the planet's land surface, but are already home to more than half of its people. That means cities are bringing people into ever greater contact, where collectively they act as a giant physical, biological and cultural force. Transport links and communication between cities, from superhighways to express trains and planes, allow businesses to operate planet-wide, shrinking the human world and making the global local.

The great homogenisation of the Anthropocene includes human culture and lifestyle as much as any effect on the natural ecosystem. And cities are the biggest expression of that. They truly are universal. I feel at home in cities around the world precisely because they essentially provide the same experience. Some are more violent, or more sleepy, or more wealthy, but the urban environment is at its heart the same. There is not the vast diversity of landscape and experience that exists across the natural world.

The sheer concentration of people attracted by the urban lifestyle means that cosmopolitan cities like New York are host to people speaking more than 800 different languages – thought to be the highest language density in the world. In London, less than half of the population is made of white Britons – down from 58% a decade ago. Meanwhile, languages around the world are declining at a faster rate than ever – one of the 7,000 global tongues dies every two weeks.
 

Written By: Gaia Vince
continue to source article at bbc.com

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  1. Most of the discussion on technology such as the issues of social change, vulnerability and privacy loss online, is not new and has been covered millionfold elsewhere. But I confess I had not thought about the genetic implications of dense multiracial cities and global travel. It makes sense that this is resulting in an ever-increasing homogeneity of the gene pool, for better or for worse (though probably for worse). I can also imagine a dystopia in the distant future, where a genetically uniform world population is struck by a plague, and scientists search desperately for isolated pockets of ‘antique’ genes (in the remaining jungles, mountain and desert settlements) in order to find a cure.

    • In reply to #1 by justinesaracen:

      I can also imagine a dystopia in the distant future, where a genetically uniform world population is struck by a plague, and scientists search desperately for isolated pockets of ‘antique’ genes (in the remaining jungles, mountain and desert settlements) in order to find a cure.

      In science fiction maybe (where cures are whipped up in a matter of hours or days). In reality, scientists will be looking for a way to contain the disease and pray it “fizzles out”. That’s about the best they could ever do.

      Our knowledge of genes and how they affect our health (much less how to manipulate them usefully) is in the zygote stage of a life form that lives 10,000 years. The human body is the greatest of all “creation” and its functioning has boggled mankind – and is likely to continue to boggle mankind – for millennia to come; to say nothing of the workings of the human brain itself. The most complex mass in all of “creation”. ;)

  2. Some of the pluses that could occur:

    1. more energy efficient tower homes. We can have things like swimming pools, gardens, patios, party spaces in common. You don’t need them full time, so it make sense to put them in common.

    2. no need to own an automobile. Walking, bike or public transport will do.

    3. efficient parcel delivery possible. There used to be such a thing a century ago, a sort of miniature railway that delivered to each building, and from there by elevator. You don’t have to drag parcels or groceries around. Today this could be driverless. It might even be clever enough to monitor your use and reorder milk when it was getting low.

    4. robotic attended vertical gardens both for greenhouse gas capture and providing fresh greens.

  3. As for the ongoing loss of languages, this is sad, but inevitable as ancestral languages lose relevance to modern life. I also predict, in the distant future, that by virtue of dominating the global media, the western alphabet will be the single alphabet used, with other orthographies such as Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Cyrillic, etc. becoming quaint artifacts, kept alive by scholars and language devotees the way Egyptian hieroglyphics are now. Words as sounds can move freely from one language to another, but notation systems cannot.

    • I noticed that the recent broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest was conducted in English – despite the program originating in Sweden. All but two of the results from 39 countries were given in English – only France and Belgium were in French – and the majority of the songs were sung in English. The winning song from Denmark was sung in English. Despite the almost universal rejection of the British entry (as usual) the common language of Europe has become English giving, at least, a moral victory to the anglophone world.

      Some years ago I was in Beijing on business. In the evening, in the bar of a fancy hotel, there were men and women from many different countries, including, of course, China, where the “lingua franca” was English. More due to the influence of American art, film, popular music etc., than to the British version, English is pervasive. In the end, Chinese, spoken by (I think) more people than speak English, will not become the dominant world language. English will.

      I do wonder, however, that, as Douglas Adams predicted, once everyone is using the Babel Fish – ie., English, will, once we truly understand what everyone else is saying, lead to more wars and chaos than before.

      In reply to #3 by justinesaracen:

      As for the ongoing loss of languages, this is sad, but inevitable as ancestral languages lose relevance to modern life. I also predict, in the distant future, that by virtue of dominating the global media, the western alphabet will be the single alphabet used, with other orthographies such as Arabic…

      • In reply to #6 by stuhillman:

        I noticed that the recent broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest was conducted in English – despite the program originating in Sweden. All but two of the results from 39 countries were given in English – only France and Belgium were in French – and the majority of the songs were sung in English….

        It’s not all gloom, and the domination of English can be a very positive thing for the worId. I have been to Malta a few times, where everyone speaks good English as well as Italian. I have discussed language with them, living in Ireland which has virtually lost its language, it’s an interesting subject for me.

        They say that although tourism, trade, some TV, much of business and academia are conducted mostly in English, they have no intention of losing their language. I’ve heard stories of people speaking English at their desks and Maltese in the staff canteen. They tell me that many of the retirees who settle there, usually from the UK, learn to speak Maltese, they say that is a nuisance, because they can’t talk behind their backs anymore, but I know that really they are pleased.

        They seem to have struck the right balance, and they enjoy their skill with languages. I told one lady about how the Irish have lost their language, and she said, “I can’t see it happening here.”

    • In reply to #3 by justinesaracen:

      As for the ongoing loss of languages, this is sad, but inevitable as ancestral languages lose relevance to modern life. I also predict, in the distant future, that by virtue of dominating the global media, the western alphabet will be the single alphabet used, with other orthographies such as Arabic…

      Movement and retention are different things Linguists identify 15,000-year-old ‘ultraconserved words’

      Chinese ideograms don’t deserve to be in the same list as alphabetic systems. They offer more than an alternate way of speaking, I think they account for real cognitive differences. I think it’s a lot harder for a westerner to learn Mandarin than a European language, but not as hard for a Chinese to learn English. A native Chinese speaker’s opinion would be interesting.

      Language (and religion) are excellent barriers to mixing, decreasingly effective. This proves the wisdom of God where in Exodus, he “scattered us upon the face of the Earth, and confused our languages, so that we would not be able to return to each other”. God knew all about evolution and gave us the tools of geographic separation, different tongues – and probably as a result, different religions – to protect us.

      Here is evidence that as our hubris encourages us to go against God’s will and rebuild the tower of Babel, we sow the seeds of our own destruction. Religion may not be bereft of unexpected insight and wisdom.

      • In reply to #7 by whiteraven:

        Here is evidence that as our hubris encourages us to go against God’s will and rebuild the tower of Babel, we sow the seeds of our own destruction.

        Poe’s Law in action, ladies and gentleman.

  4. Let us say I had little bags of raisins, nuts, pineapple, prunes, apricots etc. Then I stirred them into a Christmas pudding. It might look uniform, but surely all the diversity is still there. You would lose diversity only if the variants were detrimental to city life (like a penchant for hacking your neighbours to bits).

  5. Humans that live in big cities are less responsive to nature and climactic events as those people who live in a more exposed way and interact with raw nature….so perhaps that becomes an inherited trait of city kids, to not be so aware of the big picture beyond the city but be plugged into the cities pulse, we have to be so de-sensitised to the constant background noise which our ears and brain can hear but we try to ingore, although our bodies respond with stress. Multitudes of strangers, electro magnetic hum and traffic noise is something we live with in the city and when we go to the countryside we realise that outside the cities is quiet and sparsely populated and thats when we relax and feel less stressed. Many people who have lived in cities eventually want to move away for peace and quiet, although country folk are drawn in by the alure of the city and its opportunities, in the end its a trade off…We act like a colony of ants and respond as a group if our city is being attacked, but otherwise act as groups of individuals when we are at peace…but if any disaster occurs cities will have higher rate of casualties due to the density of population, I’m a city dweller who needs regular trips into nature to feel human again.

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