Two key factors have impeded technological progress over the past two decades:
- The difficulty of making new discoveries
- A growing tendency towards hedonism and disinterest in pursuing greatness
Let’s delve into each of these forces in more detail.
Difficulty of Discovering New Things
Consider the equipment required for two groundbreaking discoveries:
- William Gilbert’s discovery of electricity: a piece of amber
- Higgs’ discovery of his boson: a multi-billion dollar international investment in a massive underground tunnel spanning two countries, and the collective efforts of thousands of the world’s top scientists over many years
The stark contrast between these two examples illustrates the exponential increase in the difficulty of making genuine, game-changing discoveries. Science is seeing diminishing returns on investment, and the next breakthrough will likely require even more resources and have even less impact on our daily lives.
Hedonism Taking Over
Our attention spans have shrunk to mere seconds, thanks to the constant entertainment and distractions provided by our mobile devices. The abundance of food, drinks, drugs, gaming systems, streaming services, and delivery options has made it all too easy to avoid what truly matters.
Increasing numbers of potential Einsteins are instead playing massively multiplayer online games, scrolling through social media, and engaging in inconsequential activities. They work low-impact jobs at big corporations selling ads, earning five times more than the brightest scientists, then go home to watch Netflix and porn.
A Bleak Future
This is how progress comes to a halt and, eventually, how societies die.
Perhaps this is why we haven’t encountered any alien civilizations - they became too comfortable, too complacent, and eventually perished. The vast distances of space travel are too daunting, and the next item in our Facebook feed is too tempting.