Backlogged Progress

by Flemming Funch, 26 Sep 95

It seems to me like we must have a lot of backlogged technological advances in our society.

At first glance technology has and is progressing tremendously rapidly. Looking at the speed that computer technology is developing at is astonishing. It is difficult to keep up, even with what changes from week to week.

Yet, some kinds of technologies have changed relatively little, except for cosmetically, for a long time.

Take cars. Cars have 4 wheels, a combustion engine, windshield, steering wheel, headlights, etc. They are more complex and modern looking than in the beginning of the century, but it is basically the same thing. A century of amazing advances haven't really brought anything remarkably new into cars.

An 80 year old car can function quite like a present day car. It might be lacking in certain kinds of functionality, but on the other hand it is simpler and easier to trouble-shoot.

Our houses have also changed remarkably little for a long time. They look more modern and have more modern amenities. But they are basically designed the same kind of way as 100 years ago.

Our houses are, if anything, probably less durable than they used to be. European houses built hundreds of years ago are still standing. Our current houses aren't really expected to have hundreds of years of effective life.

What is going on? Are our houses and cars the most ideal design that is possible? I seriously doubt it. Cars waste a lot of precious planetary resources, burning up tremendous amounts of hard-to-regenerate fossil fuel. Our houses use hundreds of tons of material each, but are still quite vulnerable to fires, earthquakes and hurricanes. And a typical single-family dwelling takes 30 years of work to pay for.

Intuitively speaking, I'd say that we have missed out on some possible advances in our living conditions.

We supposedly become more and more able to do more with less. Emphemeralization as Buckminster Fuller called it. Less and less material can produce a more and more effective result.

Yet, we don't really see all the results of that. We are mostly kept in a scheme of living that changes very little.

We go to work, we go to school, we watch TV, we shop in the supermarket, we pay taxes, we pay most of our hard-earned money on keeping all these things going and paying taxes to a government.

If I didn't "know better" I would sort of have expected that by now we could get a comfortable living with much less effort and maintenance.

I would expect to have a transportation vehicle that didn't need refueling with something I couldn't produce by myself (gas) every couple of hours. And it ought to be able to fly or something else that is more effective than moving around at a snail's pace in rush hour.

I would expect to have appliances that didn't depend on a continuous connection to a big centralized electricity company. I would expect to be able to buy something that just worked all by itself.

I would expect to be able to buy a house I could put up by myself where I chose within a couple of days. And take down again if I would want to put it somewhere else.

I would expect that we would have colonies on the moon and Mars and orbiting spacestations I could go and visit by now.

I am not going to insist that these technologies are already there and somebody is deliberately hiding them from us, but that might quite well be the case.

Or, at the very least, we have some capabilities and some potentialities that we haven't been paying attention to.

Probably because we are so used to the way things have been so far that we don't see anything else. I mean, we "know" how a car and a house is supposed to look. We "know" that electricity comes from the electricity company and food comes from the supermarket.

But yet, I don't really buy it.

Any clues where the missing advances are?

- Flemming