May 23, 2019

The Sudden End of the Jumbo Jet

“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.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"The results were surprising. The center-right coalition, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, remained in power against the opposition Labor party, which had led in every poll for years."

"Anger seldom works against Trump; he owns the currency and can always issue more of it. In addressing the rogue President directly, or speaking about him in the third person, Pelosi usually adopts a tone that is more sorrowful than angry..."

"I am Mizrahi, as are the majority of Jews in Israel today. We are of Middle Eastern and North African descent. Only about 30% of Israeli Jews are Ashkenazi, or the descendants of European Jews."

"Kids are exposed to plenty of controversial social issues on a daily basis. And if parents don’t want their kids to watch “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” they can turn off the TV."

"Are public-school teachers really underpaid? It’s a claim often made during teacher pay disputes, but the same data and statistical methods that produce the “teacher salary gap” lead to some ridiculous conclusions..."

"Tech companies are getting into the business of making cities. We need to stop Silicon Valley social engineering before things get even worse."

"Having a Library or Cafe Down the Block Could Change Your Life: Living close to public amenities—from parks to grocery stores—increases trust, decreases loneliness, and restores faith in local government."

"“What name . . . shall we give to the darkness of hell...?” The question of how we can name a place such as this is at the center of scholar Scott G. Bruce’s new anthology The Penguin Book of Hell."

"She had all six of her kids — ages 5, 4, 2 (twins) and 10 months (also twins!) in her 10-seater van. To get the kids a quick snack, Curry parked in front of the Cobbler’s Café."

"Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they grew up typically eating dinner at a kitchen table, but a little less than half said they do so now when eating at home."

"If you tied a rope tight around the Earth’s equator and then added a single yard of slack, would the extra material make any noticeable difference to someone standing on the ground?"

"While American Jewish women face attacks on our freedom and rising anti-Semitism, abortion opponents are appropriating Jewish history in order to push an agenda that hurts women."