Hannah Arendt loved it when unexpected things happened in politics. She thinks and thought that spontaneity, newness… She used the word “natality,” which is often misused and abused in her work by others, but it means birth, birthliness. And she thought that what made human beings different from other animals is not that we were rational, but that we could start things new.
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We don’t have a concept of balance. Not only do we not have a concept of balance, but we have a very distorted sense of social justice that has been reframed to justify a society that is fundamentally anchored around the concept of imbalance. The resources of the world cluster toward a handful of very very powerful countries, one country having an even greater share. In order to justify this greater share, it’s made them believe that this higher concentration of power is normal, and that anybody in all countries can have it, and that all countries should aspire for it.
I see a set of constraints facing us in the future, and they’re all going to be very expensive. First is funding retirements for the Baby Boom generation. Second is continuing increases in the costs of healthcare. The third is replacing decaying infrastructure. The fourth is adapting to climate change and repairing environmental damage. The fifth is developing new sources of energy. The sixth is what I see as in all likelihood continuing high military costs. The seventh is the costs of innovation.
I enjoy clean air and clean water as much as the most rabid environmental person. I just think we can have the products of society, as well as having these things. Progress is a good thing. I’m just simply a realist. And I’m just trying to enjoy life, enjoy family, enjoy friends, and contribute to society as best I can. And I think providing energy, I think providing the metals that society consumes, that people have in their their iPads, in their iPods, in their iPhones… I think that’s an honorable thing to do. What else would you do? You know, why fight that?
One of the ways that industrial revolutions are interesting to think about is that they look differently depending on how and where you see them from. They look different whether you see them from Europe or Asia or Africa. But regardless of time or place, economists and historians generally tend to look at industrial revolutions through the lens of innovation. And in my short talk today I want to encourage a different way of thinking about this.
If the point of making a 10,000-year clock is to get people to think longer term how do you design that experience so that it really does that? And one of the things that we we realized is that people really need to be able to interact with it. That they need to be able to make the moment they visit it their own. So while the clock does keep time all by itself with the temperature difference from day to night, it doesn’t actually update any of the dials, none of the chimes chime, unless someone’s there to wind it.
The largest part of the ENIAC team by far were the people that were actually building the thing. And it’s interesting they’ve been forgotten by history, because although their job titles were wiremen, technicians, and assemblers, being a business historian I looked up the accounting records, and sometimes they spell out the payroll. You suddenly see all these women’s names like Ruth, Jane, Alice, Dorothy, Caroline, Eleanor showing up.
So the kind of technologies that get made are not necessarily very exciting. It’s something that [Alexis] Madrigal of The Atlantic said, these technologies that are coming out of these startups, they’re nice, they’re cheap, they’re fun. And they’re about as world-changing as another variation of beer pong. This is not big, radical change.
What I’d like to to look at is alternative versions of London, unbuilt buildings, different structures from fantastical literature (science fiction, that sort of thing), and just see how that reframes the city that we inhabit every day. How it makes us see it with perhaps new eyes.