View | Technology and the Triumph of Pessimism

1 of the most effective-marketing novels of the 19th century was a get the job done of what we’d now call speculative fiction: Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward: 2000-1887.” Bellamy was just one of the to start with popular figures to realize that speedy technological progress experienced develop into an enduring element of fashionable daily life — and he imagined that this progress would vastly strengthen human pleasure.

In a single scene, his protagonist, who has someway been transported from the 1880s to 2000, is asked if he would like to listen to some songs to his astonishment his hostess makes use of what we would now phone a speakerphone to allow him pay attention to a reside orchestral overall performance, one of four then in progress. And he suggests that getting this kind of effortless obtain to amusement would depict “the limit of human felicity.”

Well, in excess of the earlier number of times I’ve viewed various displays on my clever Tv — I haven’t built up my brain nevertheless about the new time of “Westworld” — and also watched a number of live musical performances. And allow me say, I discover access to streamed amusement a big resource of satisfaction. But the restrict of felicity? Not so much.

I’ve also browse recently about how equally sides in the Russia-Ukraine war are making use of precision lengthy-vary missiles — guided by much more or less the exact technologies that would make streaming probable — to strike targets deep guiding each and every other’s traces. For what it’s value, I’m very a great deal rooting for Ukraine listed here, and it seems substantial that the Ukrainians seem to be to be hanging ammunition dumps while the Russians are carrying out terror assaults on searching malls. But the more substantial point is that even though engineering can bring a good deal of fulfillment, it can also help new types of destruction. And humanity has, sad to say, exploited that new potential on a enormous scale.

My reference to Edward Bellamy arrives from a forthcoming guide, “Slouching To Utopia,” by Brad DeLong, an economics professor at the College of California, Berkeley. The ebook is a magisterial record of what DeLong phone calls the “long 20th century,” managing from 1870 to 2010, an era that he claims — absolutely appropriately — was shaped overwhelmingly by the economic repercussions of technological progress.

Why start in 1870? As DeLong factors out, and many of us by now realized, for the excellent bulk of human record — roughly 97 per cent of the time that has elapsed since the initially cities emerged in historical Mesopotamia — Malthus was ideal: There were being quite a few technological innovations above the course of the millenniums, but the advantages of these innovations ended up always swallowed up by inhabitants progress, driving residing standards for most persons again down to the edge of subsistence.

There ended up occasional bouts of financial development that temporarily outpaced what DeLong phone calls

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