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“When is the future no longer the future? Only a decade ago, air travel seemed to be moving ineluctably towards giant planes, or “superjumbos”. But last week Airbus announced it will cease manufacturing its A380, the world’s fattest passenger jet, as current trends favour smaller and more fuel-efficient craft. Progress changed course. A more vivid reminder of lost dreams will come in a few weeks: 2 March marks the 50th anniversary of the maiden flight of Concorde. Once upon a time, all aviation was going to be supersonic. But sometimes, the future is cancelled.
What if what we think is going to be the future right now is cancelled in its turn? We are supposedly on an unstoppable path towards driverless vehicles, fully automated internet-connected “smart homes”, and godlike artificial intelligence – but, then, we’ve been promised flying cars for half a century, and they are still (allegedly) just around the corner. We live in a time when technological change is portrayed as an inexorable, impersonal force: we’d better learn how to surf the tsunami or drown. But as a society, we always have a choice about which direction we take next. And sometimes we make the wrong decision.
For one thing, history is full of technological marvels that were abandoned for reasons that were only reassessed much later. To most people in the late 19th century, when fleets of electric taxis operated in London and Manhattan, the electric car was clearly going to win out over the filthy petrol-driven alternative. But then vast oil reserves were discovered in America, and the future went into reverse. Until, in the late 20th century, global warming and advances in battery technology made electric cars seem like a good idea again. Similarly, vinyl records have enjoyed a major resurgence in the age of the MP3: not necessarily because they are an objectively better sonic format, but because it turned out that people liked owning their culture as physical objects.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"The likely successor to British Prime Minister Theresa May, Boris Johnson, has plans to subsume the government department overseeing development aid into the foreign office, effectively eliminating it. That will destroy a post-Brexit United..."
"Gerard Baker, editor-at-large at the Wall Street Journal (no reflexively anti-Trump publication) recently wrote a piece decrying Donald Trump and his foreign policy as a fount of erratic unpredictability. This essay will give the counter view...."
"On Wednesday, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar announced that she will be visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories in the coming weeks. Omar will be accompanied by Rep. Rashida Tlaib. The two freshman congresswomen have become a focal point of..."
"Netflix may have lost US subscribers for the first time since it began making its own shows, but that didn't stop the streaming giant from dropping new figures about how many people are sucked into its Adam Sandler vortex. (Spoiler: More than..."
"A few years ago, Amy Balliett, CEO of a Seattle-based design and marketing firm, noticed that as the work week slogged on, her employees’ energy and productivity wilted. “That would slump to such an extent that the same task on Monday would..."
"Over the last few days the #faceappchallenge has taken over social media. This “challenge” involves downloading a selfie-editing tool called FaceApp and using one of its filters to digitally age your face. You then post the photo of your wizened..."
"Although there are plenty of irrational aspects to life in modern America, few rival the odd fixation on lawns. Fertilizing, mowing, watering — these are all-American activities that, on their face, seem reasonable enough. But to spend hundreds..."
"Can a book change the way we think? I don’t mean that in the sense of a reader’s opinion or ideology shifting—of course the right literary work can do that. But can a book rewire the brain itself, literally changing the way one particular mind..."
"It’s our job to let kids know we see and hear them, but we’re not necessarily going to solve siblings’ conflicts for them (or else they never get the practice). When squabbles start, imagine you’re a sportscaster and describe what you see in..."
"Magali Trejo-Martinez, a 22-year-old living in Salem, Oregon, recently went on a date that was rather uninspiring. “I had dinner, had a couple margaritas, and then went home,” is how she recapped the evening. This outcome wasn’t entirely..."
"The first lunar landing was many things — a D-Day-like feat of planning and logistics, a testament to the power of man's will, an ostensible propaganda coup for NATO. It was also, I think, one of the most misunderstood events in the history of..."
"THE FIRST TIME Bernie Sanders ran for president, he didn’t talk much about being Jewish. In fact, he didn’t talk much about himself at all. His 2016 primary campaign, like his whole political career, was relentlessly focused on one topic: income..."