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Why the History of the Universe Matters to the Power Of Us Now

In his TED talk 'The history of our world in 18 minutes', David Christian takes us on a fantastic journey through history and time – from the moment of the Big Bang right up until now. The periods of time he covers mean almost nothing to us as humans - whose sense of time only spans our own lifetimes - but if you can wrap your head around it, here’s a brief break down of the important numbers in the history of the universe:

  • The universe is 13 billion years old

  • Dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago

  • Humans are 200,000 years old

  • Birmingham is around 1,500 years old

  • The internet as we know it is only 25 years old

David highlights the vast changes humans have made to our own cultures and to the physical environment around us in the relatively short time we’ve been keepers of the planet. This is all down to collective learning; to the combined power of us as a group of intelligent beings with languages, cultures, and history. We’re a powerful bunch, but – superhero cliche inbound – with great power comes great responsibility. David uses the vast expanse of the universe to highlight the complexity, fragility, and dangers of the future. More often than not, the dangers are our own doing (think global warming, wars, and poverty), but David also uses history to show the power of us through collective learning, and the opportunities for humans to develop positively in the future.

The power of us can be used as for a force for good; for the advancement of all sorts of amazing things. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rapid changes of the past 25 years in how we work, communicate, and live our lives. It’s easily comparable to the first moments of the universe, when space and time expanded ridiculously fast. 

Birmingham has undergone some big changes in the last 25 year - some good and some not so good. - but it can definitely be said that the last five years have been some of Birmingham’s best, with innovation and creativity booming. The city is also one of a small number of smart cities in the UK – an exciting prospect that gives us Birmingham residents the ability to contribute to and shape the city like never before. Issues of unemployment, health and wellbeing, and reducing carbon emissions are just some of the things moving from the domain of government and institutions into the hands of us. With a heritage such as Birmingham’s, home of the industrial revolution and an eclectic mix of cultures and ethnicities, and as one of the youngest cities in Europe, this is no surprise.

And, whilst economically it seems that the younger generations have it tough, in terms of feeling connected to one another they seem to understand the power of us more than any other generation. When you’ve grown up with access to all the information you could possibly dream of (and more), and the ability to talk with people on the other side of the world through the internet, it comes as no surprise that the younger generation is more aware of the power of us and able to tap into that power. And it’s this that David draws attention to in his talk. As an ‘us’, we are powerful.

Collective learning is the power of us, and new technologies evolving from the internet age have expanded our range of knowledge and deepened our capacity for collective learning. They have propelled the power of us outwards, and given us the means to harness this energy more effectively in the future. This enables us to rise to the challenges lying before us all: to streamline, combine, and hold to account the powers that have always dictated to us – governments, big businesses and more.

Building on the history of our universe and the human race, and enabled by new technologies, the people of Birmingham can use the power of us to shape a more global, more connected, more shared city than ever before, and  TEDxBrum is one of the platforms bringing us together in order to celebrate and build that power of us.

by Kieran Kilbride-Singh
TEDxBrum Champion
@exploreescape