Monday, December 17, 2012

No Flying Cars

A few days ago I wrote about the 40th anniversary of the last Apollo voyage.  Apparently the anniversary prompted some moaning about the lack of big technological innovation compared to what people imagined fifty years ago.

At Bloomberg, Virginia Postrel puts these complaints into perspective.  An excerpt:

"The world we live in would be wondrous to mid-20th-century Americans. It just isn’t wondrous to us. One reason is that we long ago ceased to notice some of the most unexpected innovations. 

Forget the big, obvious things like Internet search, GPS, smartphones or molecularly targeted cancer treatments. Compared with the real 21st century, old projections of The Future offered a paucity of fundamentally new technologies. They included no laparoscopic surgery or effective acne treatments or ADHD medications or Lasik or lithotripsy -- to name just a few medical advances that don’t significantly affect life expectancy.

The glamorous future included no digital photography or stereo speakers tiny enough to fit in your ears. No forensic DNA testing or home pregnancy tests. No ubiquitous microwave ovens or video games or bar codes or laser levels or CGI-filled movies. No super absorbent polymers for disposable diapers -- indeed, no disposable diapers of any kind. 

Nor was much business innovation evident in those 20th century visions. The glamorous future included no FedEx or Wal- Mart, no Starbucks or Nike or Craigslist -- culturally transformative enterprises that use technology but derive their real value from organization and insight. Nobody used shipping containers or optimized supply chains. The manufacturing revolution that began at Toyota never happened. And forget about such complex but quotidian inventions as wickable fabrics or salad in a bag."
You can find the whole article here.

Ms Postrel has written a great deal about the future, technological change and attitudes towards it, most prominently in 1999's The Future And Its Enemies.

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