21 Problems of the 21st century

Isabella Grandic
19 min readFeb 13, 2019

I’ve never really understood the world. Like sure it’s a bunch of countries, states, provinces, cities, whatever. But I’ve never empathized with what it would be like living somewhere other than Toronto.

How often do you reflect on your life and think: “wow, I’m so fortunate not to be a child of war in Iraq or someone starving in Venezuela or a labour intensive worker in Thailand”. I know I personally don’t think of these things frequently. I’m always caught up in another matter; not being someone starving in Venezuela never really crosses my mind.

What if I was someone starving in Venezuela? I can’t even imagine feeling a sensation of burning hunger, a hunger that makes one weak and sick, for weeks on end.

People on our planet right now are eating rotting meat every day because that’s their only source of nutrition.

It’s not just food crises. People around the entire world face many more different terrible situations; slavery, poverty, lack of water etc. These circumstances are not uncommon around the world.

In the developed world, we find it difficult to associate such beautiful and exotic countries like Brazil, Thailand and South Africa with such terrible circumstances.

But it’s the reality. Most people around the world don’t get to live privileged lives.

Today, billions of people live in the developing world surrounded by medical issues, infrastructure problems and no food to eat.

When it comes to the problems we face on this planet, these are just the tip of the iceberg.

As a fellow Canadian trying to keep nice and warm in this frigid country, I can forget how lucky I am to be able to walk outside of my house, and walk around my neighbourhood feeling safe. The worst thing about my situation is the fact that my hands get freezing, but there’s a simple solution to this: buying gloves. Not every problem is this simple to solve.

I’ve realized that I basically know nothing about the outside world. And as a 15-year-old girl, I don’t have the cash or parental permission to go visit slums in southern Asia or learn about lack of food security first-hand in Kenya.

So, I’ve been reading a ton by Yuval Harari to broaden my knowledge of what the world is like. His books Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 lessons of the 21st century have — no exaggeration — changed my life.

I figured I was missing an article on Human-Stupidity and our problems in 2019: Inspired by my key-takeaways from 21 lessons of the 21st century.

So…Let’s channel our best inner Christopher Columbuses and explore our world today and its prevailing problems.

21 of our largest problems

Here’s the table of contents:

  • Social Interaction
  • Laundry (haha just you wait for this section)
  • Education
  • RIP Fishes and Forests
  • Data revolution
  • Obesity
  • Car accidents
  • Suicide
  • Fake news
  • Manipulating everything else that is living
  • Hunger
  • Poverty
  • Overpopulation
  • Terrorism
  • Ecological Collapse
  • Human Stupidity

… So the title was actually clickbait I’m only going to dive into 16 problems/subsections #rebel #clickbait #gotyou

But… regardless of the quantity… let’s get into it??

Social Interaction

Ah yes, the forgotten art of conversation.

Why have a human to a human conversation when you can just snap or text someone? It is so much easier to be “fake” that way! If you’re unfamiliar with “fake friendships”, let’s plug in an urban dictionary definition to help you out:

A person who uses you for their own benefits and then spreads rumours and gossips about you. E.g. Kate is such a fake friend, she used me for a ride and then threw some shade at me on Instagram.

Social media does have some positive features like connecting to people and families all around the world. It has never been faster/more comfortable to talk to someone.

However, social media also has some detrimental effects on both the mental health and productivity of rotting adolescent brains.

For starters, Gen Z has literally created a new language. “Thirsty” no longer means the act of needing water, but it’s when someone looks desperate for attention. We’ve introduced words like “tea” to replace gossip and words like “bruh” to be added at the end of every sentence. Bruh.

But what does the new connectivity + language discovery of teens mean?

Well, hanging out with your friends NOW usually looks like:

This is crazy to me. What could possibly be on that device that makes it so urgent to answer? What’s the point of hanging out with someone if you’re just going to be on your phone?

Most average teenagers are constantly on screens. Actually, 78 per cent of teens check their mobile devices at least hourly. We’ve gotten to a point where these devices are taking away from human interaction.

Why is everyone so afraid of AI, when we’re already basically humans + machines?

But this is an opportunity. If everyone’s always on their phones, we should be focusing on delivering messages to solve other problems, and trying to get these children to go on walks and stuff.

We’ve already gotten most people in the western world addicted, might as well use this to our advantage?

In western society, children are growing up caring more about their devices rather than what’s going on in the world. We need some way to instal empathy and actually inform everyone about what their life could’ve been like had they been born in the favelas of Brazil or Khayelitsha in Cape Town, some of the poorest places in the world.

Without human connections, we’re losing the taste of empathy in our societies. People aren’t talking to each other. They can’t possibly get good at human connection if all they’re ever doing is tweeting and Instagramming.

We are getting worse at conversations. Hard talks are harder than ever because we are getting worse at talking. Because we’ve stopped talking to one another.

If friends Bob and Susan can’t have a decent conversation about Susan’s hardships at home, they’ll never be able to understand bigger problems around the world like violence, poor healthcare and lack of infrastructure.

Basically: We need to get better at conversations and developing empathy in Western Society. This is 🔑 to help understand the magnitude of problems across the world.

The Teenage Crisis: Laundry

According to some politicians (not naming names), climate change isn’t the biggest problem right now: “we can solve it later”.

And.. when they mean “later”, they’re going to leave it to my generation to deal with, “later”.

So, yes politicians, please, continue destroying the earth with fossil fuels and let my generation clean up your mess!!

In case you haven’t caught on, this is a huge problem.

Other than the obvious environmental issues caused by ignoring climate change and continuously putting CO2 in the atmosphere; the other problem with procrastinating climate change is the generation being left to solve this problem.

Why?

Well, because my generation is full of … well, I’ll let you classify them in a bit:

Someone convinced the whole demographic of teenagers to give into the tide pod challenge — no, they were not doing laundry, that would require responsibility.

This was a challenge housed by pure stupidity. Teenagers were ingesting tide pods: (aka laundry detergent). Why? Just for the fun of it.

What happened to kids playing capture the flag or hockey or drawing or literally any other normal hobby? My generation has gotten bored to the point where they’re eating the chemicals their mommies use to clean their clothing.

Are these the people you want controlling the fate of the earth?

Ahh, breakfast: Tide Pods
The fact that we even had to tweet this shows how sad the future is

Teenagers doing the tide pod challenge for fun is a sign that clearly something is wrong in society. What’s next? The bleach challenge? The jumping off roofs challenge?

Dear adults: what level of stupidity does my generation need to reach to prove to you guys that 1. we are completely screwed on earth 2. the system breeding us is broken. For the sake of the fate of humanity, let’s get our act together, so we don’t have thousands of teenagers eating chemicals for fun?? How’s that sound? Once we deal with the teenagers’ weird hobbies, let’s get cracking on climate change, longevity and hunger ok?

Education

Ah. The perfect system to teach oneself to cram a bunch of useless info into one’s head and forget it momentarily after writing an evaluation. Also, a system that does a perfect job in providing absolutely no insight into the real world to its members. A phenomenal way to stress students from an extensive range of ages and the key to sucking away human creativity.

The system which bred those who partook in the tide pod challenge.

But, this system works when it comes to financials. In North America we are wealthy, and we have a “good” education system. While in poor countries they usually have a weak education system.

“But this system is not optimized for the market of tomorrow. Most of the stuff we’re learning today won’t apply to 2050.”

We no longer need people memorizing + cramming information, we can just use google. Instead, we need critical thinkers, collaborators, creative makers and communicators.

At present, too many schools focus on cramming information into kids’ brains. In the past, this made sense because the information was scarce.
How can we prepare generations of children for the future, if we’re using such an outdated system?

We need to optimize for empathy, creativity and collaboration.

Empathy so we can raise people to understand the world’s problems. We want people to be able to be empathetic to those less fortunate than them. Issues like hunger, poverty, refugees and war: these need empathetic leaders.

Creativity so that we can bind solutions to our problems. We need creative people to make the world a better place.

Collaboration because no one will be able to do this alone. Humankind is not one, it is many. Let’s work together.

On a different note…

RIP Fishes and Forests

Brazil better be damn sure it hates its trees because at this rate we’re getting rid of them awfully quickly.

Countries like Japan, China, the U.S., Indonesia, Chinese Taipei and South Korea need to get their stuff together if they still want to fish tuna.

Forestry and Fishing. Two industries being depleted faster than they can reproduce. Did no one learn anything about cod in Canada??

It’s amazing how many dumb decisions we’re making on a day-to-day basis. I don’t know if these governments haven’t realized, but we definitely won’t be able to survive without trees. Billions of people depend on fish for their meals. Living without these resources will be hard.

Guess what? No one’s doing anything about this.

At least we’ll have nicely furnished houses.

The Data Revolution

This isn’t so much a “problem” yet.

Might be in the future, but there really isn’t much we can do. Tech companies have a monopoly over our information… and in 10 years they will probably build algorithms that will know you better than yourself.

“At present, people are happy to give away their most valuable asset — their personal data — in exchange for free email services and funny cat videos “

I think the actual problem lies in the fact that large corporations do everything in their power to get you addicted to these devices so they can gather data on you. Today, marketing and advertising tactics are so incredibly precise, so many companies understand what will get you hooked.

The marketing and advertising are leading to 3 main problems: obesity, suicide and car accidents. (Maybe not directly but let me elaborate).

Obesity

Think about a Coca-Cola commercial.

Have they ever advertized an overweight person drinking pop? No.

What about a diabetic person lying in their death bed? Nah.

It’s always a young, healthy person.

They’re lying to you, Coca Cola is not for athletes.

Coke’s a household name. Ask most people, and they’ll be able to tell you what it is. They’ve been masterminds in manipulating us, the consumers, to remember their brand. I’d consider them pretty successful in that aspect.

Today, across North America, companies like Coke and Pepsi, have got us addicted to pop. We even have companies like McDonald’s and Burger King which are getting Americans fast, unhealthy meals.

Together, Soda and fast food are killing Americans!

In the upcoming years, your phones, computers, etc., have so much info on you, they’ll be able to get you hooked on their stuff, assuming you aren’t already. Customizable advertisements will ensure you become a part of the obesity epidemic.

McDonald’s and Coca-Cola: obesifying the population one burger-drink combo at a time.

Car Accidents

Distracted driving kills more people than drunk driving.

With advanced understandings of you, companies will do everything in their power to keep you addicted to their platforms.

What does that mean for us? More people urged to check that text/notification, more calls, and red-light Instagram checks.

More distracted driving = more death.

Luckily, there are some super cool people working on advancing transportation, self-driving cars might actually save lives while idiot humans can scroll through insta without murdering anyone.

Suicide

Social media is linked to depression, anxiety and loneliness amongst its users. Social Media causes FOMO (fear of missing out), and numerous adolescents are impacted by it.

With companies literally hiring people to keep everyone addicted to their devices, we’ll only affect more people with this issue.

There have been studies to prove this. Everyone’s becoming depressed, which leads to higher suicide rates.

We already have companies killing the planet’s well being, do we really need companies killing humans too?

Fake news

“When a thousand people believe in some made-up story for one month, that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion, and we are admonished not to call it “fake news” in order not to hurt the feelings of the faithful (or incur their wrath)”

See, humans do this thing where they convince enough people of something, and they turn it into fake news.

When it comes to presidential elections people will sip all the tea they can get their hands on (tea as in gossip).

Sipping Tea

If you’re unfamiliar with the word “tea” it means gossip … and “Spilling the tea” also translates to “giving the gossip”.

Welcome to English-Slang 101. I hope you learned something.

So let’s talk about the tea: global warming.

97% of scientists have evidence about climate change happening (I have no clue where the other 3% got their degree)

43% of Americans list climate change as their top priority.
Why is there even a debate about climate change? 48% of Americans don’t think it’ll affect them in their lifetime.

Lol, live in New York, San Fran, Miami, Boston, LA, Portland, Seattle… etc.? Just you wait. It’ll also probably be helpful to learn how to swim if you can’t already! There’ll be lots of water! “Climate change won’t affect you.”

Jokes… climate change is a real issue. But “we don’t think it will impact us”, and since it doesn’t feel like an immediate threat, we’re not doing anything about it.

However, this isn’t fake news. This is 100% real, and will completely f**k the planet up. But our news sources are more focused more on terrorism and Donald Trump’s breakfast, we’re losing sight of long term problems.
We need to start advertising stuff that is going to wreck us in the long run.
Also, what’s up with Canadian News Networks, not advertising Timmy’s roll up the rim? I don’t care about the windchill, just tell me when my coffee can get me free doughnuts.

Conclusion: We need to amp up our news networks to make them more relevant + expose people to more long term issues *cough, cough climate change.

We’ve also manipulated everything else that is living

Human beings: masters of manipulation, destroyers of this planet.

Yup sounds right.

Manipulation:

Chances are, you’ve probably manipulated someone into doing something for you.

But don’t feel bad, it’s encoded in your DNA!!

Humans have mastered the art of manipulation. One of the most significant, most long-lasting manipulations executed by our species was the use of Animals in the food industry. Other examples of manipulation can be noted all throughout history. Like slavery, the Holocaust and taking over native land.

Manipulation happens when someone (or many people) think they’re better than someone else (or many other people), so they take advantage of them.

It happens all around us. Young teenage boys are continually manipulating the minds of adolescent girls, and vice-versa. There is racism, sexism, etc., which gives people thoughts of superiority.

We are programmed to be superior. We want to rule the world. We want immortality. We want to be the best.

But this is starting to make no sense. Why do we need to manipulate animals to provide food and entertainment for us? We shouldn’t need to milk cows for milk and kill pigs for bacon(just use cellular agriculture 😎).

But we do it anyway. There are a TON of problems with using animals. CO2 emissions, resource usage, land usage, etc. The animals we’ve manipulated are actually one of the leading causes in destroying this planet — but that still becomes our fault, because we’re the reason they’re so genetically successful.

I’ll bet you $10, that when the world ends, we won’t take responsibility for the destruction we created. We’ll blame it on the cows or something.

When some other living beings, from another galaxy, discover earth sometime in the future, when humans are extinct, they’re probably going to think we were the worst things ever to live. All us humans have done is be selfish. We’ve destroyed 83% of all life forms. We’re in the process of destroying all ecosystems. Soon, we’re probably going even to kill ourselves. Whoever discovers earth and humans in the future, is probably just going think of us as some irrelevant apes.

Do we really want to be remembered as irrelevant apes?

Even this pickle hates us:

Hunger

While on the one hand, we have a rising obesity epidemic, 2 in 7 people are obese, on the other we have 785 M people malnourished, and 1 in 7 people hungry.

So 1 in 7 people are hungry, while 2 in 7 are overeating, and the other 4 people are just chilling.

This is stupidly ironic.

Currently, 1 in 3 items of food is wasted. PEOPLE ARE STARVING, and we’re throwing out food. Welcome to America.

Human beings in developing countries or in low-income households worldwide aren’t getting enough food because the rest of the world is wasting valuable resources. Our food is becoming far too pricy, and slums across the world lack access to food.

Writing this it’s hard for me even to imagine not having food to eat. We don’t have enough empathy in the western world because we can’t believe the magnitude of the problem. All of our most significant issues go back to economic incentive.

Is there an incentive to solve hunger? Not really.

What about obesity? Actually the opposite, there’s more of an incentive to keep making everyone fat.

We aren’t investing enough time/money in finding a solution to providing people with essential resources, like food.

“The money, time and political capital invested in fighting terrorism were not invested in fighting global warming, AIDs and poverty; in bringing peace and prosperity to sub-Saharan Africa; or in forging better ties with Russia and China. If New York or London eventually sinks under the rising Atlantic Ocean, or if tensions with Russia erupt into open warfare, people might well accuse Bush, Obama and Trump of focusing in the wrong front”

In other words, let’s stop spending our tax dollars on walls and spend that money investing in the digestive systems of our species.

Poverty

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor.

There are people in the world without proper roofs over their heads, clean water, medical care etc.

It is absolutely shocking to me that it is 2019, and there are people still living in poverty.

That’s just unacceptable.

Again, I blame this on North America’s “bubble”. Your average kid in Beverly Hills or Upper east side New York probably won’t be able to develop a concrete understanding of what the world is like for the most miserable 4 Billion people in the world.

I find it hard to imagine what it would be like living in a developing country.

But I’ve just lacked the experience to figure out what that is like.

Takeaway: enough of us don’t understand the real world. We find it almost impossible to imagine situations like extreme poverty. Since we can’t empathize, we don’t have enough people working on these very crucial problems.

Overpopulation

Karachi, Pakistan: one of the most overpopulated areas on this planet.

Just for context, 193M people live in Pakistan. 36 M people live in Canada. That’s almost 5.5X people. But Canada is 13X larger.

That’s a lot of people in a very small area.

1/3 of Pakistan is underwater at all times. In 5–10 years, all of Pakistan could be under water. That’s 193 M people, displaced, homeless.

The bigger issue is that there are so many coastal cities around the world prone to this issue of overpopulation and rising sea level precautionary location.

If we don’t get our act together, we’re going to kill and displace billions of people. Luckily for us, the generation of people that are going to have to deal with the consequences of the idiotic mistakes we’re making right now eat laundry detergent for fun! Elect them for President.

Ecological Collapse

“Habitats are degraded, animals and plants are becoming extinct, and entire ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reed off Australia and the Amazon rainforest might be destroyed. For thousands of years Homo sapiens have behaved as an ecological serial killer; now it is morphing into an ecological mass murderer.”

I feel like most people can agree this is a big problem. It affects everyone and everything.

Well,

WHY ARENT WE DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT?

Forest in 2019

Money. There’s just no money in it to save our earth.

This is a hard problem. A tough challenge. But it’s a problem I’m personally invested in. Because if I’m not gonna do it, who is?

Money is basically fake news. It’s literally a worthless piece of paper but we all think it’s so valuable because… well, we all believe it has value. Money is basically trees (ok technically it’s made from cotton and linen fibres but moving on…). There are all sorts of deforestation occurring around the globe, from Old-growth forests in Russia to the Amazon in South America, we clearly don’t “care” about trees. But if money’s a “tree” why do we think it’s so valuable? Why are we committing our lives to it?

Point is, my life isn’t worth being valued based on the number of worthless pieces of paper I have. That’s why big problems with very little economic incentive don’t scare me, because the actual reward — saving the globe, is a lot better than a bunch of $20 bills.

My life should be valued based on my impact and the people in my life. That’s why I am willing to do stuff no one else wants to do, because my life is worth more than that.

We have so much stuff to fix, especially involving our ecological collapse. But I won’t be able to do this on my own. We need more people to take their phones out of their hands and tide pods out of their mouths, and stop living their lives to achieve a bunch of useless pieces of paper. Kids don’t understand their life’s worth, and as a result, we’re losing so many creative minds.

Also, Ozone Depletion

It’s literally like we’re asking for skin cancer.

As a person who is very very pale and easily burns I would rather not have a hole in the ozone layer?? Not really trying to develop melanoma. Maybe it’s just me.

Yeah, ecological destruction is kinda a big deal.

Human Stupidity

“Individual humans know embarrassingly little about the world, and as history has progressed, they have come to know less and less”

Once you accept you know nothing, you’re opening yourself up to so many new possibilities.

Because the world is complex. There is so much to discover.

Personally, I always grew up curious. I always asked questioned and embarked in exciting projects. I was interested in stuff like water and hunger — giving people fundamental human rights. But I never actually believed I could make a noticeable difference. I never even considered it. I’ve always just been a kid with (what I thought was) an irrelevant passion for helping people.

But what if… I can actually do something??

Make a difference??

Impact billions??

After writing this article and reading these three novels, my perspective on the world has changed. I realized “oh no, humans have really screwed up”, we’re drowning in problems.

I’ve never really understood/internalized what it means to live in poverty or in constant danger. Reading has really only been the escape from my perfect world into reality. Other books like Mango Tree, have also personally impacted me so much. They’ve gotten me so passionate about solving essential issues in the world.

I know I’ve won the lottery for life. I am in a position where (contrary to my prior belief) with the correct skills and mindsets, I can actually change stuff. I can become more than an irrelevant ape.

Chances are, whoever’s reading this, you can do something worthwhile too. There are so many unsolved problems in the world that no one has begun cracking in to.

Life’s what you make it. If you want to be remembered, you need to do something memorable, as simple as that. When someone googles your name, what do you want them to see?

One of the biggest questions I’ve been asking myself is: “with all my knowledge, education and resources, what am I going to do to make the world a better place”. I’m working on developing curiosity and ambition to make the world a slightly better place.

Humans have been around for a loooooooooong time. All we’ve done is destroy this place.

So from me to you, let’s stop procrastinating our biggest problems and get our stuff together 😊 🚀.

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Isabella Grandic

Aspiring healthcare infrastructure designer, technologist and scientist.