Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Pace of Technological Improvement

About a month ago you students brought up The Shawshank Redemption, and I brought up an old Looney Tunes cartoon. Neither is required.

The context was the rate of technological change.

I got Shawshank from Netflix and watched it over the weekend. It’s very good, but I don’t know why it’s on so many peoples’ list of their favorite films.

Anyway, it’s relevant here because I remarked that there’s some evidence that the rate of technological change was fastest from 1880 to 1920. The movie features a convict who is paroled after being in prison from 1905 to 1954. He can’t handle the pace of life on the outside and commits suicide.

This is related to the topic we covered last week: that the level of technology is a positive for well-being, but that the growth rate of technology creates problems because it has to be “fed” with more capital.

The Looney Tunes short I mentioned is from 1944 and is entitled “Old Grey Hare”. What interested me about it is that it shows Elmer Fudd falling asleep only to awake in 2000 (other than that, it is clearly not one of Looney Tunes best offerings):

There isn’t too much new high technology shown. It’s interesting that they were familiar enough with television in 1944 to make a joke about it (consumer sets didn’t become common until the late 1940s). I also liked the vision of the city of 1960: it looks a bit like Vegas. And when Elmer wakes up, his rifle has turned into a “Buck Rodgers Lightning Quick Rabbit Killer”.

But, I also found this interesting for this week’s discussion of “low tech”. The vision of 2000 produced in 1944 includes a high tech innovation (the ray gun), but completely misses the possibility of low tech innovation: that rabbit hunting is no longer popular, broadly accepted, or even practiced much.

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