I read senior writer Michael Anft’s cover story, “Now What?”, with special interest. I say “read” rather than “edited” because I’ve spent the last three months on maternity leave. My particular interest in Mike’s story—a roundtable discussion among Johns Hopkins scholars contemplating the future—comes from a new mother’s suddenly profound investment in what lies ahead. I’m on the lookout for good news.
And I’m not alone. We’re in the midst of perhaps the biggest baby boom in history. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were more babies born in the United States in 2007 than there were in 1957, the peak of the last baby boom. The economy is in the dumps, reports on the environment are abysmal, the world seems determined to blow itself up—and we’re making babies. What’s up?
Well, one sort of practical theory I’ve heard is that in an economic downturn, couples who can’t afford to go out entertain themselves indoors instead. A variation is that those couples are actually seeking solace in sex rather than a good time, but either way, it produces lots and lots of offspring. Another theory is more bleak, proposing that what the human race is doing is akin to a dying oak throwing acorns in a last-ditch effort to propagate the species. Yikes.
I’m going for something a little brighter because having a baby is all about irrational optimism. We look at our newborns and see promise, potential, a second chance—we messed up, but they’re going to do better. I like to think I’ve contributed to the next generation of problem solvers. Which is why, while reading “Now What?” I was encouraged not just by the fact that some very smart people are on the case, but that in the midst of their conversation about doom and gloom, mass migration, domestic terrorism, and falling governments, they so often return to the themes of hope, innovation, education, and a turning away from self-interest in favor of civic-mindedness. If the academics are optimistic, maybe we’ve got a chance.
Having made it back to work just in time to pen this editor’s note, I hope you’ll indulge me as I use the space to express my gratitude to two extraordinary groups of people: First there are the doctors and nurses at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center who delivered my beautiful, healthy daughter. Then, of course, there’s the magazine staff, led this issue by associate editor Dale Keiger. With help from consulting editor Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, not only did they put together a great issue, they made it possible for me to enjoy my leave without worry and to focus all of my attention on my new baby at home. Many, many thanks to all.