Forty years later, we're still waiting for those congestion-free highways -- along with the jet pack, the paperless office and all those "Star Trek"-like gadgets that were supposed to make 21st-century life so easy.The author, John Blake, makes some interesting observations, such as, well, some of those futuristic gadgets are already here. He mentions things like jet packs and flying cars that already exist but aren't commercially viable, but I contend that PCs and cell phones and the Internet would all qualify.
Still, he points to the fact that our highways are still jammed, and that people are becoming disillusioned with what technology can promise the future. He notes dystopian movies like Blade Runner where "technology creates more problems than it solves," and Battlestar Galactica where "human beings abandon their faith in technology's ability to improve the future. They destroy their fancy machines and start again as simple hunter-gatherers."
I don't think our culture's disillusionment is coming from a loss of "faith" in technology to "save us" but instead the wholesale abandonment of reason and the ever-increasing power of the state over our lives. The loss of reason and the increase of the state go hand in hand. We are losing our confidence in our individual ability to command our own lives, and instead are turning to government to "save us." Government, in turn, is crushing the productive output of what is left of capitalism.
Let's looks at traffic congestion. The article is right. It shouldn't be an issue. But rather than a technological problem, it is a problem of a lack of property rights and liberty. A traffic jam is a concrete example of a shortage. Demand for driving room outpaces supply. And why is this the case?
Traffic jams are a direct result of a government monopoly of the roadways. If capitalists (road builders, auto makers, etc.) were left free to find solutions to the problems, traffic jams would disappear. Technology alone wouldn't help. Imagine adding flying cars to the current mix... in our mixed economy, they'd have to be regulated of course--EVERYTHING has to be regulated, right? Or else we're left with soulless profiteers preying upon the weak-minded and everything goes to hell!---which means the FAA would get involved. There's already a shortage of air traffic controllers. Need I go on with this example? Same goes with jet packs. They would be personal transportation, but what would you want to bet that the government would rule that people would have to land and take off in special "jet pack ports?" Who will want to drive their jet pack to a government-approved launch pad, fly to their destination, and then be stuck at the landing pad with a jet pack and no way to get where they're going (without added expense)? Not to mention all the licensing, government mandated training, excise taxes, etc., all stifling the market before it even exists.
My point in all of this is that the reason we aren't witnessing amazing technological change in all areas of life is because of government interference. The computer world exploded and continues to (for now) because regulators haven't quite caught up with it yet. When they do, it will slow greatly.
Technology isn't the problem and it isn't the solution. It's not the cause, but the effect. Blake treats technology as some sort of disembodied phenomenon, apart from the humans who create it. But to do so ignores that technology doesn't just appear... it must be created by individual minds, left free to think and create.
The real cause of human progress -- whether embodied in technological advances or otherwise -- is freedom. Freedom to innovate, to produce, to solve problems and make astounding amounts of money doing it. When the country abandons its infatuation with state control and the government is confined to protecting individual rights, we'll see the kinds of mind-blowing changes the optimistic futurists of 100 years ago dreamed of.