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Techno-Optimism for Townies
my friends aren't interested in your cyborg future, normal people problems, there is no universal future, building little league dynasties is building too
The only way that your friends will find out about Seeking Tribe is if you tell them. You have the opportunity to be the person who introduced them to their new favorite blog. Don’t let one of my other readers beat you to it!
This piece was partially prompted by’s Techno-Optimist Manifesto. But also a more general critique of a lot of writing in the adjacent Progress Studies idea space—a world that I’m currently swimming in as part of my Roots of Progress fellowship. All critiques are also directed at myself, I could do a better job of writing in a way which appeals to a broader audience. Hopefully this post is a step in the right direction.
My best friends do not aspire to found billion dollar companies or perfect the application of a new technology and forever change the course of history. They have only ever thought about laws and regulations when confronted by a harsh reality in their personal lives. Red and blue lights dancing in their rear-view mirror. A letter from a busybody telling them that the new shed they built in their backyard is illegal. A vision of progress which describes a future of artificial general intelligence, cyborg immortality, and asteroid mining is alien to them.
Techno-optimists tend to talk in terms which inspire an existing and relatively small, yet powerful, base. But progress is not only for transhumanists who live in cities and spend their days and nights planning to colonize Mars. A better world is one where humans with a diverse set of preferences have greater opportunity to meet their needs and realize their dreams.
If techno-optimists build their vision for the future, how is life going to get better for people who aspire to stay in their hometown or small city?
Calls for technological progress and economic growth are abstract and only mean something to people to the extent that they impact their lives directly.
My friends (and I) want to get paid more. We want to be able to purchase a house before we’re fifty years old, or afford a two bedroom in our favorite neighborhood. We want to date someone who is attractive and shares our life aspirations. We want to fall in love and get married. We want to not stress about filling up our gas tank, going to the doctor, or taking a pet to the vet. We want to have a family and invite our friends and their families over to grill, chill, and eat burgers.
These are the problems that most people care about in their lives. They’re not worried that they won’t get to live to be 200 years old. They’re more worried about their monthly utility bill than ensuring that 50% of cars are electric vehicles by 2030. People who care about progress, who have seemingly-personal beefs with state and federal bureaucracies, need to speak to the aspirations of people who do not read the same blogs as them, and often don’t read blogs at all. Different people want to live different lives. There is not a universal vision for the future and there never will be.
The best future is a world where those who feel compelled to solve difficult technical problems and build products and companies have more opportunity to experiment and realize their visions. A future where the United States has expanded our industrial base, where companies hire and train people to produce goods in the world of atoms. A future where when you walk downtown in any major city, let alone a megalopolis, you feel compelled to stop and count the cranes that are building new condos, apartments, and commercial spaces. A future where energy is so cheap and reliable that new machines and technologies banish persistent problems to the past. In the same way that those in developed countries do not fear famine, they will no longer worry about a sustained drought, heat waves, or access to organic fresh produce. Every American who wants a pod—perhaps even a studio—in New York City, Chicago, Dallas, or Los Angeles will be able to afford one.
The best future is a world where those who feel loyalty to their hometown and community have the opportunity to stay and prosper. With continued innovation and concentrated political will, the costs of necessities will fall and make the simple life even cheaper than it is today. More people will be able to choose to live and prosper in lower productivity towns and villages, without forgoing necessities or living paycheck to paycheck. The poor may not be able to afford the latest GPU or state-of-the-art electric vehicle at release but prices will continue to fall and they will get access to these goods, or even better ones in a few years. They will also be able to afford to have a small house or apartment, two children—hopefully more—in relative economic security. With broader prosperity, social infrastructure that collapsed and left a vacuum ‘filled’ by social media and parasocial relationships will be rebuilt one little league game and barbecue at a time. Movies from the 90s will make sense again—rather than portraying a more social, earnest, and physically healthy past of the pre-smartphone era.
The best future is one that enables these good futures and many others all at the same time.
The future we should imagine and share is not all interplanetary spaceships, robots, and chaotic dynamism. That’s a part of it but it’s not the whole story. It will also be a world of broader prosperity and opportunity that's fueled by positive advancements in technology and policy. A world where there are many more ways for people to afford to live and to thrive. True progress will not only allow people to live in big cities and build spaceships but make it easier for people to buy a house in their home town and build a dynasty.
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Great recent works from my friends:
Infrastructure is the Concealed Wiring of Our Civilization by Jeremy Côté
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