Instead of pointing out some interesting new piece of scientific research, today I’d like to highlight an excellent piece of science writing which starts off by asking the now well known question, “Where are the flying cars we were promised?”
In a scathing 7 page editorial, American Anthropologist David Graeber delves into the scientific breakthroughs that were so often prophesied in the 60’s and 70’s yet have almost all failed to come true. He examines how our world now compares to our world then when it comes to ideas, dreams, goals, and money flows. With particular attention to how scientific culture has been influenced by political struggles, cultural limitations, and economic bottom lines.
Popular culture and scientific breakthroughs from the Cold War era had many convinced that by the enigmatic year of 2000 (or 2001 in the case of Kubrick’s Space Odyssey) we would be living in a truly futuristic era with fantastic new inventions to help us travel, work, and live better. Doc Brown drove a flying car in the year 2015, while captain Kirk was busy trying to keep peace in different galaxies sometime between 1995 and 2995 (according to creator Gene Roddenberry). And although the Star Trek world kept it vague enough to still be possible, many of the other seemingly plausible though somewhat laughable future scenarios have proven to be way off.
But never mind Hollywood stories, what gets Graeber’s goat is that in many cases we as humans could have pursued things like advanced space travel, enhanced measures of making sure everyone on the planet could have food, and speedy transportation, but priorities especially after the cold-war, changed that path. He mentions names like the Conchord and the Russian Tupolev super sonic jets that back in the 70’s set records for flight speed yet were abandoned decades later for financial reasons. The shift from lofty government funded science projects to private consumer driven products like iphones and flat screen TV’s.
His story isn’t all bad, he acknowledges futuristic achievements when it comes to video communication and medical technology. But his concern is for how institutions of higher educations have shifted from centers of innovation to marketing machines. How science funding is more often applied to military developments than transportation or improved infrastructure. In short, we should have and could have had our flying cars by now, but our financial and political system is holding back the dreamers and their dreams. Highly recommended reading.
Source: The Baffler
Illustration: Bill Lewis / the Baffler