Saturday, January 24, 2015
The proposition: as civilisations get more complex and sophisticated, once they have more or less mastered Nature and the physical environment, what happens is that an increasingly large proportion of any society's innovation-drive is directed towards the domain of pleasure / leisure, lifestyle enhancement and self-development.
The piece expands upon an earlier one that Carr wrote titled "which argued, speculatively, that the focus of innovation has followed Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, beginning with Technologies of Survival and now concentrating on Technologies of the Self."
Neal Stephenson's worries about lack of visionary goals and s.f.'s possible role in stirring up a hunger for Giant Steps; Tyler Cowen's argument about "innovation stagnation"; Peter Thiel's conviction that . large-scale innovation has gone dormant).
Carr says the original gloomy-gus, however, was economist Robert J. Gordon, who in 2000 published “Does the ‘New Economy’ Measure Up to the Great Inventions of the Past?. In Carr's words, Gordon's argument was that "the conditions of life changed utterly between 1890 and 1950," what with the internal combustion engine, electric lightbulb, electric transformer, steam turbine, electric railroad, automobile, telephone, movie camera, phonograph, linotype, roll film (for cameras), dictaphone, cash register, vaccines, reinforced concrete, flush toilets, the typewriter, punch-card tabulator, airplanes, radio, air conditioning, the vacuum tube, jet aircraft, television, refrigerators.... as well as all kinds of Giant Steps in warfare, atomic energy etc. But nothing like this 60 year surge of limits-on-life-lifting breakthroughs had occurred from between 1950 and 2000.