A lengthy but fascinating read on The Economist about our current era of innovation stagnation: modern innovations pale in comparison to those of the past and "for all its flat-screen dazzle and high-bandwidth pizzazz, it seemed the world had run out of ideas."
Or take speed. In the 19th century horses and sailboats were replaced by railways and steamships. Internal-combustion engines and jet turbines made it possible to move more and more things faster and faster. But since the 1970s humanity has been coasting. Highway travel is little faster than it was 50 years ago; indeed, endemic congestion has many cities now investing in trams and bicycle lanes. Supersonic passenger travel has been abandoned. So, for the past 40 years, has the moon.
Medicine offers another example. Life expectancy at birth in America soared from 49 years at the turn of the 20th century to 74 years in 1980. Enormous technical advances have occurred since that time. Yet as of 2011 life expectancy rested at just 78.7 years. Despite hundreds of billions of dollars spent on research, people continue to fall to cancer, heart disease, stroke and organ failure. Molecular medicine has come nowhere close to matching the effects of improved sanitation.
To those fortunate enough to benefit from the best that the world has to offer, the fact that it offers no more can disappoint. As Mr Thiel and his colleagues at the Founders Fund, a venture-capital company, put it: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters." A world where all can use Twitter but hardly any can commute by air is less impressive than the futures dreamed of in the past.
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