So what's next in our post-consumer age? It seems the economy may be leveling off, if not on the rebound. Economists seem sanguine that we are poised to make a recovery by 2011. Two years is not a long wait for most people - although for people already in retirement, or slammed by medical bills, it may seem a lifetime.
Not yet time to start shopping at Neiman-Marcus again.
But has the wave of crisis that washed over us last fall really dissipated? Or is it, like the ocean tide, merely the first in a series of storm-surged sized crests that will, ultimately, knock down our system for good?
Maybe our tribute this year to Darwin's publishing of the theory of evolution should also take note of the fact that the speed of evolution is increasing exponentially. From prehistory to the Renaissance were many technological advances, but nothing can match the rate of invention from ENIAC to Mac. Likewise, the spread of communications. Perhaps the transition from etching on stone to Gutenberg's printing press advanced the spread of ideas over centuries. But today, the entire world is connected in a communications Web from Google to Facebook to Twitter.
What does this speed and ease of connecting to the farthest reaches of the world herald? And is this rise in connectivity coincidence, or synchronicity?
Will the next wave compel us to take use these powerful tools to retool not just our economy, but our environment, approach to relations with other nations, and most importantly, the way we take care of ourselves and our families in a more mindful manner?
Modern economists in our consumer economy speak of "creative destruction" to describe the rise of innovation and efficiency in capitalism, but I doubt they think of themselves as part of the fallout. Perhaps what we are now seeing is the first wave that will put them - and many others who cannot ride through the storms - the kind of environmental, social, political upheavals that will lead us from a destructive "modernism" that values individual power and wealth to a greater in-tune-ness with our world, that will eventually give rise, not to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, but to the Health of Humankind.