The Next Magic Kingdom, Future Perfect

Monday, November 28th, 2005

The Next Magic Kingdom, Future Perfect gives an example of long-term thinking:

Technology is self-creating. When I design a faster computer, it lets me create an even faster one. In science, this is called autocatalytic: every change increases the rate of change. So people are right to think they can’t plan for the future the way they used to. In the Middle Ages, you could be in a cathedral and then figure that your grandchildren would finish it. Long-term projects made a kind of sense. These days, you can’t imagine a three-generation project. No one believes that such a thing would remain relevant. I like the example of the oak beams in one of the dining halls at Oxford, which were put up in the sixteenth century. Several years ago, they had to replace the beams — twenty-foot oak beams, which are very hard to come by. They called the Oxford forester and asked if there were any such trees, and sure enough there were. In other words, someone thought far ahead enough to have planted the trees in the expectation of replacing the beams. You can’t imagine that kind of thinking anymore. It just wouldn’t occur to many people to make a centuries-long development.

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