Another excerpt from Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, this time on the friction between faster technology and the faster sense of change that it brings on the one hand, and the longer lifespans that the past century has brought and consequently the slower generational change that results:
Accelerating change has practically become a religious belief in Silicon Valley. It often begins to seem to us as though everything is speeding up along with the chips.
Broadly speaking, Moore’s law can be expected to accelerate progress in medicine because computers will accelerate the speeds of processes like genomics and drug discovery. That means healthy old age will continue to get healthier and last longer and that the “youthful” phase of life will also be extended. The two go together.
And that means generational shifts in culture and thought will happen less frequently. The baby boom isn’t over yet, and the 1960s still provide the dominant reference points in pop culture. This is in part, I believe, because of the phenomena of Retropolis and youthiness, but it is also because the boomers are not merely plentiful and alive but still vigorous and contributing to society. And that is because constantly improving medicine, public health, agriculture, and other fruits of technology have extended the average life span. People live longer as technology improves, so cultural change actually slows, because it is tied more to the outgoing generational clock than the incoming one.
So Moore’s law makes “generational” cultural change slow down. But that is just the flip side of neoteny. While it is easy to think of neoteny as an emphasis on youthful qualities, which are in essence radical and experimental, when cultural neoteny is pushed to an extreme it implies conservatism, since each generation’s perspectives are preserved longer and made more influential as neoteny is extended. Thus, neoteny brings out contradictory qualities in culture.
“People live longer as technology improves, so cultural change actually slows, because it is tied more to the outgoing generational clock than the incoming one.”