Tyler Cowen has famously talked about the innovation slowdown. Paul Krugman for years derided the internet as a diversion.
Some of what’s going on is misinterpretation of what progress looked like.
To put it in really abstract terms the mechanical revolution turned about the be a really big deal. The fossil fuel revolution took it even further.
However, part of what happened is that the made a big difference in the world you could see. The built environment just looked a lot different.
People, however, don’t really exist in the built environment. People exist in their minds. Nozick aside, it is the consistent generation of felt experiences that matter. Whether they have some strong analog in the outside world, whatever that might mean, is kind of beside the point.
The outside world only matters because it seems to present limits to the ability of our minds to function. Cold minds, can think of nothing but getting warm. Hungry minds can think of nothing but getting food. Dead minds cannot think at all.
This forces us to deal with the external world. However, imagine that we conquer hunger, cold and other extreme conditions. In more common terms lets say our basic needs are taken care of.
Then the mind is free to explore as it wishes and we should expect an economy of the mind.
This is in some sense the economy of Tech and Ed. Modern information and communication technology is about interacting as directly as possible with minds.
We have sights and sounds delivered directly to us. We are able to communicate with friends and family around the world. We can build relationships and share ideas. Relationships in particular are what minds really want to do.
All that physical stuff was just a crude means to that end. It would not be surprising if that part of the economy languished almost forever more.
Indeed, on a slightly different note, I am wondering if there is not a significant “backslide” in our near future. As virtual communications become more powerful and ubiquitious it makes sense that the value of physical face-to-face communication will fall.
By no means has this happened yet. Indeed, it appears that in many areas the value of physical face-to-face communication has risen. Yet, this just doesn’t seem consistent with the long term fundamentals.
Are we in a face-to-face bubble?
This is what fuels my growing interest in radical exurbanism. The idea that developments in telecommunication will allow people to live far away but still have business relationships.
We might then imagine living arrangements evolving solely around being near family and friends. A sort of extensive network of small towns, each containing people highly sorted to wanting to live within the norms of that small town and with the people of that town.
If there is cheap transportation, this makes this even more possible. Imagine driverless electric autos transporting physical goods between these areas at very low prices.
Yet, even if we’ve gotten a long way past hunger and cold, we are not far past death. This still leaves open the door for a world in which Med grows in importance.
Now its actually possible that the force of Med will drive the geographic economy in the opposite direction, as downtowns are defined as the centers of medical activity. I don’t know.