Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Neil Armstrong, Ray Bradbury: The future is not what we thought it would be

Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012.  He was the first man to walk on the moon.  (Since they always say this I wonder if Women walked on the moon earlier.) Ray Bradbury  died on June 5, 2012, though on this (and perhaps other) blogs with was overshadowed by death of Mihai Patrascu on the same day.

When man landed on the moon I thought that this would be a common thing- that we'd goto the moon about once a year. In the end only 12 people walked on the moon and we stopped going in 1972.  See here for details.

Why didn't we go more often? Maybe there wasn't much to see- you see one moonrock you've seen them all. Are unmanned flights much better in terms of science-for-the-money? I suspect yes.  Also, one reason America put men on the moon was to beat the Russians to it.  Once we already did that, the point was made, so no reason to go again.

If we went now it would cost much less. So perhaps we should have waited for the technology to catch up and go later for much cheaper.  That's not quite right- one reason we have some of the technology is that we went then. But in some areas- computers in particular- certainly we would have still made progress without going to the moon.  On the other hand going to the moon when we did was quite inspiring to some people.  (Are you one of those people?)

Ray Bradbury's classic Farenheit 451  was about censorship- the government had firemen who burned books. Books made of paper. I suspect that within 10 years e-books will be the standard (some exceptions- Art books, maybe some Math books).  Will that make censorship easier or harder? The Arab Spring was caused partially because the government could not control social media. However, in China the government is pretty good at blocking access to the Web. But still, some gets through.  So to rephrase the question- does current technology make censorship easier or harder?  I don't have an answer to this question- but I invite your intelligent commentary.

Ray Bradbury himself has said that the book was also about people choosing a shallow culture (e.g., TV over books). Modern technology has been a mixed bag for this.  Some TV shows will one day (or even now) be seen as classics (e.g., The Simpsons) while others are of course going to be seen as vapid, shallow, and not worth much (e.g., Madmen).


  1. Have you seen Madmen? Have you reflected on it? It provides deep and insightful commentary on three levels: historical, cultural, and existential.

  2. Yeah, I'm surprised that you selected Mad Men as an example of vapid and shallow. Even if it turns out that history sees it that way, that is definitely not the consensus right now. Your point would be better served with examples like The Kardashians, The Bachelor, Jersey Shore, and Big Brother – these are shows without any redeeming qualities, and that even those who enjoy them are willing to admit are shallow and a guilty pleasure.

  3. It seems far from obvious to me that going to the moon now would be cheaper than it was in 1969. (Correcting for inflation, of course.) In a properly functioning society, one would expect things to generically become cheaper as a consequence of technological progress, but it is not clear that we really have that.

  4. Madmen is perhaps not the best example, because at the very least it's effective at depicting some part of American history. I would have rather cited soap operas and reality television as the tools that really water down our culture. They're nothing but pointless shows that only indulge in the worst part of our selves.

  5. DRM makes it easy to remove works from the devices of citizens.

    Web-based publications can be changed, often leaving no traces of the original.

    Countries have figured out ways to interfere with "social media" when they need to.

    Going to the Moon now would require a FAR safer vehicle and FAR MORE useless bureaucracy and earmarks.

  6. The notion that going to the moon now might be MORE expensive then then
    because of regulations and too many saftey concerns- I had never thought of that! Great! Is it true? What if a private company was able to do it with
    less regulation (Richard Branson is trying to have Virgin Galactic which will
    do things like that). The technology surely is better and that will cut costs
    a lot, but I agree that if it was Government program they would (for example)
    make sure that every state manufactured some piece of it, and the companies involved might be those that were well connected rather than those that were good.

  7. I'll add another pro-Mad Men voice. I think it's a deep and thought-provoking show. Have you considered that you might be missing some aspect of it? Or are you not interested in thinking about how flawed, complicated people respond to the frustrating and arbitrary social structures in which they find themselves?

    Of course, perhaps you "get" the show better than I do, in which case, I guess I just enjoy wallowing in the vapidity.

  8. Of the 6 comments so far (I am not counting mine) FOUR have been about Madmen.

    1) first off, it is way to easy to point to Keeping up with the Kardashians or other obviously terrible shows (will I now get emailing defending them?)
    so I wanted to pick something else.

    2) My opinion- Madmen is a crashing bore. One reason its popular is that when we watch it we can pat ourselves on the back for how far we've allegedly come since then.

    3) If Mademn lasts long enough we'll see their reaction to landing on the moon!