Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Period of Stagnation

Excerpts from “The Boring Age,” by Michael Lind, Time, March 11, 2010:

Illustration by Kelly Blair for TIME We like to believe we live in an era of unprecedented change: technological innovation is proceeding at a rate with no parallel in all of human history. The information revolution and globalization are radically disruptive. Just as Barack Obama would like to be a transformational President, so the rest of us like the idea that we live in a thrilling epoch of transformation. But the truth is that we are living in a period of stagnation.

Surprisingly, this stasis is most evident in an area where we assume we are way ahead of our predecessors: technology. In fact, the gadgets of the information age have had nothing like the transformative effects on life and industry that indoor electric lighting, refrigerators, electric and natural gas ovens and indoor plumbing produced in the early to mid-20th century. Is the combination of a phone, video screen and keyboard really as revolutionary as the original telephone, the original television set or the original typewriter was?

…I predict that in the year 2050, the nation-state will still be the dominant form of political organization, with a few new nation-states added to the U.N. The U.S. will still be the dominant global economic and military power, even if China has a somewhat larger GDP because of its larger population. Most energy will still be derived from fossil fuels, and nuclear power will account for an increasing share of global electricity production, while wind and solar power will still be negligible. Most people will get from place to place by means of cars, buses, taxis and planes, not fixed rail. Thanks to biotech advances, people will live longer and healthier lives, and consequently the largest single occupation in 2050 will be — drumroll, please — nursing!

I know, that's a boring vision of the future compared with a Chinese century in which everybody is a genetically modified immortal who rides monorails and eats algae grown in skyscrapers. But hey, in the future, phones will be really cool.