London: Are you as astonished by tech as I am? It’s amazing isn’t it? Amazingly bad, I mean. Staggeringly stunted. Sure, endless companies are in the business of bringing stuff to your door – groceries, takeaways, Christmas presents, you name it – but is technology itself delivering? Not really.
Do a simple experiment. Take Prince William and compare the advances of his first 38 years to those lived by his great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, born in 1900. She got refrigeration, stoves, antibiotics, cars, flight, tractors, telephones, televisions. A revolution at home, in the fields, and on the roads. Game-changing stuff. Stuff so important, in fact, that it still underpins all our lives today, a century on.
And what does Prince William have? He can order a burger from his phone, maybe post a picture of it on Insta when it arrives. Even that royal phone, like all our smartphones, is stuck, conceptually identical to the iPhone launched in 2007. The computer age itself is rooted in the transistors invented by Bell Labs way back in 1947.
I know this might feel like the age of tech, because we all have screens and Silicon Valley giants sit atop the markets. But what has tech done for you today that is anything like as significant as the impact of washing machines or motorways on generations gone by? Where are the great leaps forward? “Where,” as one notable recent book-length bromide put it, “Is My Flying Car?” So many tech promises are unfulfilled. So sometimes it’s good to stop and ask ourselves whether this really is the great acceleration or, as economist Tyler Cowen famously put it almost a decade ago, The Great Stagnation.