Tuesday, June 26, 2012

David Graeber Essay

     "A secret question hovers over us, a sense of disappointment, a broken promise we were given as children about what our adult world was supposed to be like. I am referring not to the standard false promises that children are always given (about how the world is fair, or how those who work hard shall be rewarded) but to a particular generational promise- given to those who were children in the fifites, sixties, seventies, or eighties- one that was never quite articulated as a promise but rather as a set of assumptions about what our adult world would be like. And since it was never quite promised, now that it has failed to come true, we're left confused: indignant, but at the same time, embarrassed at our indignation, ashamed we were ever so silly to believe our elders to begin with.
     Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor-beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now?

...Might the cultural sensibility that came to be referred to as postmodernism best be seen as a prolonged meditation on all the technological changes that never happened? The question struck me as I watched one of the recent Star Wars movies. The movie was terrible, but I couldn't help but feel impressed by the quality of the special effects. Recalling the clumsy special effects typical of fifties sci-fi films, I kept thinking how impressed a fifties audience would have been if they'd known what we could do by now- only to realize, "Actually they wouldn't be impressed at all, would they? They thought we'd be doing this kind of thing by now. Not just figuring out more sophisticated ways to simulate it."

from Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

   by David Graeber in The Baffler No. 19