Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Discontinuities in Human History

Charlie Stross is annoyed that he has to spend time twiddling his thumbs in airports with a laptop with a dead battery:

Charlie's Diary: Travelling I'm catching a taxi to the airport at 5am tomorrow, and will subsequently take approximately 28 hours of travel to reach my destination. (Blogging will, therefore, be sparse until I recover from the jet lag).

Just a thought: the cost of an air fare to the antipodes today, in 2006, is on the order of one month's salary for a full-time skilled worker in the developed world. The journey takes 24-48 hours depending on stop-overs, and is somewhat uncomfortable.

This compares quite accurately to the price of a stage coach journey across the home counties of England in 1806.

We're not living in a global village, exactly, but the world has nevertheless shrunk unimaginably in scale in just two centuries, so that we become blasé about it — so that we get annoyed because Boeing 747s and Airbus 340s seem slow. What does this tell us about our expectations, beside the obvious?

Well, right now I'm annoyed that I cannot find an English translation of the early thirteenth century "Life of William Marshal," and that I will have to leave my eyrie eighty feet above the earth in this concrete-and-glass tower with its perfect view of the Golden Gate and walk a hundred yards to the library.

Twenty thousand years ago one of my ancestors was worrying about (a) being hunted down by the nastier thugs to the south with better spears, (b) the fact that this northern land to which the band had fled was cold, and (c) that the bones of his children with darker skin did not seem to be growing straight.

I think this tells us that the Singularity already happened--although I'm agnostic as to whether it really happened in 4000 BC with Gilgamesh of Uruk, 1000 BC with Ish-Ball of Tyre, 1460 with Johann Gutenberg of Mainz, or 1995 with Tim Berners-Lee of CERN...

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