Is it just me, or are other people thinking governments distort human progress when they fund technological research? Think of it this way, how there are next to no grants you could apply for to find new applications for wool, but if you had some idea for a synthetic fibre one tenth as effective, you would be drowning in cash. Or think of how there is virtually no government funding for cycling, but squillions to help driverless car makers get their products to do something that cyclists do naturally, i.e., negotiate intersections without traffic signals or signs.
I’m sure many of us have found ourselves in the situation of getting government funding, or the ears of politicians, by talking about sensors or batteries on bikes, or phone apps that make bicycles “smart” in that way. Call me when the technology is actually awesome, like a button on the handlebars for opening doors. Most of you now are looking like farmers, applying for any useless funds that you can, even it’s just to put micro chips in sheep’s arses.
I know facebook and twitter skew toward bigger government and that most blog readers click through from those sites, so I apologise (kind of) for certain opinions that are laissez faire. An example is that I don’t believe in arts funding. Andy Warhol and Truman Capote funded paradigm changing work from commercial work they did off their own bats. Art funded by arts committees maintains the status quo that put those committees in place.
If we turn our minds from the worlds of literature and art to city planning, we see a world groaning from the weight of technology apps, sensors, trackers, smart poles, big data and other technological wizardry. One obvious irony is that the cycle of innovation, production and consumption causing the world’s ecological strain is held up as the cycle that will lead us to a sustainable future. The other irony is that the wizards in this, when you meet them, are often wearing cardigans made out of…wait for it… wool.
I just wish they could see that what is good for their shoulders is good for the layers of clothing beyond that: their buildings and cities.
Why add an air conditioner to your house that you switch on with your phone when you can have sun shades and cross-ventilation? Why build apartments blocks with dozens of lifts when a block can be oriented around one or two lifts, and use a spiralling floor plate navigated with bikes for most of the vertical circulation? Why fill streets with driverless cars and app-based mobility solutions when we can partially cover our streets from the worst of the weather and navigate them on bikes?
If I may coin a phrase, this is woollen cardigan thinking. It’s the kind of thinking that, maybe, you have had on your bike. It looks for innovative assemblages of elements that themselves are quite simple, often natural, and possibly timeless. Great ideas can be had in synthetics as well, it’s just that we’re drowning in technological thinking these days. We’re encouraging too much of it, with public funds.