Has technological progress stalled?

Here’s a topic on which the views of older people should be interesting.

There’s a lot of discussion nowadays (drawing on studies by Vaclav Smil etc) claiming that all the big changes are behind us.

OK - there is ‘progress’ at the micro-level - mobile phones. etc - but are these really substantial?
When I think of my grandfather’s life I remember him telling me about the first time, as a teenager, he had to deliver a horse to a nearby town, which (in his own words) “was the other side of the world then”. His world (in the countryside) was without cars, aircraft, electricity, running water, etc - yet he lived to see men walk on the moon. I was a little boy then - but has my life seen the ‘progress’ he saw?

Has the micro-chip-revolution really had the impact on people’s lives that radio and television had 70 years ago - or are they just another basically similar screen?
70 years ago, the de Havilland Comet certainly did change the world - hasn’t everything since really amounted to ‘more of the same’?

Dunno, I think that the Internet and global communications has been/will be at least as disruptive as air travel - and arguably even the widespread introduction of electricity. I don’t think humanity is done innovating just yet.

No I don’t think it has stalled but may be for other (external influence) reasons may have slowed.
But progress is still being made technologically speaking on the back perhaps of better communication (cap)abilities and innovations like 4G/5G, Fibre and battery technology. to name but a few.

I was reminded recently of ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ a book I read as a student, unable to put it down, and remembered the cutting of marble by hand with rudimentary tools, transporting it from the mountains with oxen, and then by boat, for Michelangelo to sculpt.

Hugely different today and wonder whether new technology – battery power – will replace current diesel power. And now with climate change will marble cutting and transporting go back to the days of Michelangelo? Will we be going backwards technologically because of climate change?

Cutting Carrara marble out of the mountains in Italy –

I’m not sure that folk would consider it technological… but around 60 years ago… Patrick, the brother-in-law of a friend, was deeply involved in “future things…” in USA.
He couldn’t say much to me, but simply explained: “Life, but not as we know it…”

Yep, Patrick got that phrase going… well before Star Trek was up and running… and I’m still wondering if such “Life” has actually been discovered or is yet to come…

The big innovations are likely to come on the pharma-medico-biology front. Perhaps nuclear fusion power will be mastered - that would be transformative.

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I wonder if anyone will ever discover a way to harness/store the heat of summer to be used in winter?
Izzy x

I’m hoping for stargates, wormholes and FTL/hyperdrives🤩

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But isn’t it all a bit incremental now?
Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher of science, describes ‘normal science’ as ‘puzzle solving’ within accepted rules - but real leaps forward like the Copernican or Einsteinian revolutions, or those of Darwin or Lavoisier - he calls ‘paradigm shifts’ that actually change the rules. There were lots of those during my grandfather’s life - but have there been any since Quantum Theory in the 1920s?

It’s striking, isn’t it, that many of the things we’re trying to do now - eg. re-using containers instead of throwing them away - go back to the way we used to live…

Thinking about this, I guess ecological thinking might constitute a ‘paradigm shift’ that has occurred (just) in my lifetime?

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I think you could argue that it has always been incremental as far as the technology itself is concerned, the paradigm shifts come from how the innovation is applied.


As a 10-year-old my mother would send me to a ‘one man & his horse’ coal merchant, to carry back 14lbs of coal in a hefty shopping bag. That was the only source of fuel we had to heat the home, or more precisely, the front room - until dad could afford the next home heating piece of technology, a gas room heater.

The coal industry developed, reached its peak and now no longer really exists. And gas is probably on its way out too.

Nuclear power now heats my house here in France, and will move on to advanced nuclear power, but I won’t be noticing any difference when I switch on the electric central heating for coming winters. It will advance, has to, but will be unseen, at least to me at home.

EDIT: I’ve moved in my lifetime from a 14lb bag of coal to nuclear fusion, of is it fision

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And thinking again - it’s still long ago really - the 1960s - and is philosophically just a development of structuralism - so back again to my grandfather’s lifetime…

The Webb telescope must be a good example of technological progress. And RNA vaccines. Lots of small steps leading to something big.

But technological innovations like cars or flight or television propagate enormous changes that are in historical terms very sudden.
Television, for example, has tended to isolate families and individuals, and reduce them to passive consumers of ‘entertainment’ - which previously people would make for themselves, in much more social contexts. Computers and mobiles have made small changes to these behaviours - they enable interaction - like that we are engaged in now - but at a more fundamental level we are still generally sitting in our homes looking at screens, instead of gathering round a piano, etc…

All science is incremental. There are no ‘out of the blue’ theories or proposals. Quantum theory didn’t come out of the blue, neither did special relativity. Quantum theory came as a result of the work of many predecessors in the 19th Century, and more particularly in the early 20th Century of Einstein’s work on black body radiation, which was pre relativity and for which he received his Nobel prize. Relativity built extensively on the work of James Clerk Maxwell, and relativity was a direct consequence of Maxwell’s equations.
All scientists stand on the shoulders of giants.
Edit: Just looked it up, and had forgotten that Einstein’s 1905 paper was itself based upon an earlier paper by Max Planck who first proposed the quantisation of energy.

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Obviously Kuhn doesn’t deny such antecedents of paradigm shifts. Basically, ‘normal science’ in the process of applying a paradigm in new areas uncovers gaps and anomalies in the explanatory power of the established framework - but most scientists still can’t think outside that framework. Even when the only way to resolve the difficulties is staring them in the face - eg. Newton’s assumption of absolute time and space was wrong - they still can’t see it. Until somebody like Einstein shifts the whole frame of reference so that ‘science’ makes sense again.

us too as a family of 8 in '50/‘60s Manchester…
but progress to a gas fire in the lounge brought with it a change in health and the wider availability of central heating has itself increased poorer health (in my view) amongst the population.
Children now are less resilient to health knock-backs and seem more “sickly”. Nowt like a cold shower in the mornings to toughen kids up tha’ knows and keep warm scraping th’ice of the inside of bedroom windows :wink:


I was promised my own personal jet pack and holidays on the Moon as a small child by Raymond Baxter on Tomorrow’s World.

Until those appear, technology can GTFO.

But he didn’t, and he was the first to admit this. What he postulated was just a logical extension of James Clerk Maxwells work amongst many others. He may have had that flash of inspiration that made it all make sense, but if he hadn’t someone else would have within a few years. People lionise Einstein, but he wasn’t really that special. The real genius who created the foundation of much of modern physics was James Clerk Maxwell.