From Glenn Reynolds in Popular Mechanics:
The future isn’t what it used to be. And neither is science fiction. While books about space exploration and robots once inspired young people to become scientists and engineers—and inspired grownup engineers and scientists to do big things—in recent decades the field has become dominated by escapist fantasies and depressing dystopias. That could be contributing to something that I see as a problem. It seems that too many technically savvy people, engineers in particular, are going to work for Web startups or investment firms. There’s nothing wrong with such companies, but we also need engineers to design bold new things for use in the physical world: space colonies instead of social media.
If I’m right, that’s bad for all of us. But are we really losing the will to do big things or are the big things just different than they used to be? I asked around and, on this subject, found science-fiction writers to be pessimistic.
One of today’s best SF authors is Neal Stephenson, whose books include Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age. In a recent article in the World Policy Journal, he writes that during science fiction’s so-called golden age—roughly the late 1930s to the late 1960s—the stories being published were about big things and big breakthroughs: moon rockets, Mars bases, robots, and teleportation. Perhaps by coincidence, those were times when the United States was actually doing big things and making big breakthroughs. Now, writes Stephenson, “[s]peaking broadly, the techno-optimism of the Golden Age of SF has given way to fiction written in a darker, more skeptical, and ambiguous tone.”
. . . .
I called Stephenson and asked him to elaborate. “There was some moment in the late ’60s and ’70s when people thought we had enough tech,” he says. “Technology was too dangerous, and people became reflexively skeptical of new ideas. If you stay that way for a couple of decades, it can come back to bite you. There’s also a less obvious danger, which is that if science and technology stop wowing us, people start to develop skepticism about the scientific method.”
. . . .
[Inventor Dean] Kamen was more optimistic than my science-fiction writers. From his perspective, the problem is actually that writers are falling behind. “Science-fiction writers aren’t being imaginative enough to get ahead of the science,” he says. “You walk into a major university medical center and what you find is something way beyond science fiction.”
Kamen agrees that we’re not making enough progress in space, but says, “That’s because of the excitement at home—cloning, curing diseases, extending life.” And yet he agrees with Stephenson’s argument that the Internet, while obviously a valuable tool, can also be an unfortunate distraction: “We’ve given people new ways to communicate but nothing worth saying. I wish people understood the difference between data and information. The fact that it’s easy, fast, and cheap doesn’t mean that it’s valuable.”
Link to the rest at Popular Mechanics