October 3, 2011

NEAL STEPHENSON: INNOVATION STARVATION:

I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done. My parents and grandparents witnessed the creation of the airplane, the automobile, nuclear energy, and the computer to name only a few. Scientists and engineers who came of age during the first half of the 20th century could look forward to building things that would solve age-old problems, transform the landscape, build the economy, and provide jobs for the burgeoning middle class that was the basis for our stable democracy. . . . In early 2011, I participated in a conference called Future Tense, where I lamented the decline of the manned space program, then pivoted to energy, indicating that the real issue isn’t about rockets. It’s our far broader inability as a society to execute on the big stuff. I had, through some kind of blind luck, struck a nerve. The audience at Future Tense was more confident than I that science fiction [SF] had relevance—even utility—in addressing the problem.

Read the whole thing. I’ve started reading Stephenson’s new book in my — at present extremely limited — spare time. So far it’s quite good.

UPDATE: Reader Drew Kelley blames politics:

I would remind Mr. Stephenson of this bon mot from the early career (Governorship) of Ronald Reagan:

“You grew up in a different world,” the student said. “Today we have television, jet planes, space travel, nuclear energy, computers. …”

Taking advantage of a pause in the student’s litany, Reagan said, “You’re right. We didn’t have those things when we were young. We invented them.”

It is that “student” who is today unable to deal with the “big stuff” in life. That “Free Speech Movement” that Mario Savio started sure has made things better for us.

Funny, I’d never heard that story.

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