Page 22 - The.Ascent.of.Humanity
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The Triumph of 


Gee Whiz—The Future!

For at least 200 years now, futurists have been predicting the immi- 

nent rise of a technological Utopia, drawing on the premise that technol- 

ogy will free humankind from labor, suffering, disease, and possibly even 

death. Underlying this view is a defining story of our civilization: that 

science has brought us from a state of ignorance to an increasing under- 

standing of the physical universe, and that technology has brought us 

from a state of dependency on nature’s whims to an increasing mastery 

of the material world. Someday in the future, goes the story, our under- 

standing and control will be complete.

At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, it seemed obvious that the 

Age of Coal would usher in a new era of leisure. In one industry after 

another, a machine was able to “do the work of a thousand men”. Soon 

the day would come when all work was mechanized: if a machine could 

do the work of a thousand men, then it stood to reason that each man 

would have only to work one-thousandth as hard.

As the Industrial Revolution progressed it soon became apparent that 

most people were doing more work, not less. True, the spinning jenny 

and power loom freed millions of women from the tedium of spinning 

their own thread and weaving their own cloth, but replaced that tedium 

with the horrors of the textile mill. Similarly, the steel foundry replaced 

the blacksmith’s shop, the railroad car replaced the horse and cart, the

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