Friday, November 9, 2007

Future Imperfect

Thinking about how things change together, not in isolation, and how, when thinking about future changes, one should sight on appropriate landmarks to gain perspective, reminded me of the example in the opening paragraphs of David Friedman's Future Imperfect (note: a twenty-chapter book draft in a single html file!):
I recently attended an event where the guest speaker was a cabinet member. In conversation afterwards, the subject of long term petroleum supplies came up. He warned that at some point, perhaps a century or so in the future, someone would put his key in his car's ignition, turn it, and nothing would happen–because there would be no more gasoline.

What shocked me was not his ignorance of the economics of depletable resources--if we ever run out of gasoline it will be a long slow process of steadily rising prices, not a sudden surprise--but the astonishing conservatism of his view of the future. It was as if a similar official, a hundred years earlier, had warned that sometime around the year 2000 we were going to open the door of the carriage house only to find that the horses had starved to death for want of hay. I do not know what the world will be like a century hence. But it is not likely to be a place where the process of getting from here to there begins by putting a key in an ignition, turning it, and starting an internal combustion engine burning gasoline.
Citing Future Imperfect is enough for one post. His subject is close to mine here:
This book is about technological change, its consequences and how to deal with them. In this chapter I briefly survey the technologies. In the next I discuss how to adjust our lives and institutions to their consequences.

I am not a prophet; any one of the technologies I discuss may turn out to be a wet firecracker. It only takes one that does not to remake the world. Looking at some candidates will make us a little better prepared if one of those revolutions happens. Perhaps more important, after we have thought about how to adapt to any of ten possible revolutions, we will at least have a head start when the eleventh drops on us out of the blue.
David Friedman is one writer who deliberately applies perspective.

Speaking of sighting and citing: how is it that sounding, as in water depth measurement, was called that long before the invention of sonar? (The phrase "sound out" was derived from sounding rather than the other way around.)


Anton Sherwood said...

sounding for depth is presumably related to sound for a body of water, and perhaps to sunder.

FutureNerd said...

A sound, like the Long Island Sound, is a body of water shallow enough to measure by sounding, that is with a weight on a string. So the sensing or testing meaning seems to have come first.

FutureNerd said...

I've just been puzzling over this Jethro Tull lyric, too:

"Could be soon we'll cease to sound,
slowly upstairs, faster down.
Then to revisit stony grounds,
we used to know."