How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jager Bomb

As I (and a record 8 million other live Youtube viewers) witnessed Felix Baumgartner jump from a floating platform 128,000 feet in the air, I could not help but think about those little red bulls on his helmet. Red Bull, the ubiquitous energy drink and funder of all things Extreme™, had branded nothing less than a moment in human history. A monumental achievement brought to you by a peddler of a sugary drink that has fueled some of the worst decisions in the world [NSFW]. There was a day when the United States government was in the business of dazzling humanity with its feats of technological superiority and raw tenacity. For three years we were landing on the moon almost every six months. We made it look easy. Baumgartner’s jump is truly incredible, but it also makes me a little angry. I am tempted to bemoan the fall of civic life and the rise of corporate-sponsored spectacle, but ultimately I cannot find a moral handhold. Do I want an arms race or consumer capitalism to fund the greatest technological achievements of my lifetime?

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The Fourth Wave of Technological Progress

CubaGallery on Flickr

Much has been said about the arrival of the “information economy;” the “information age;” and/or the “knowledge worker.” If we take these claims seriously, and as indicating a shift in society and economy equal to the gravity of those statements, we should find similar revolutionary changes in today’s sites of industry as Mumford charted in the 14th and 18th centuries. The mine is the first wholly artificial environment. It has no sunlight, no women with large breasts in fields, and the very air that the miner breaths has had work done on it by a built ventilation system. The work of human beings surrounds the individual, and in this totalizing environment one is left to confront the world of abstracted use and exchange. The mine exists because of and through the scientific knowledge of the previous century. It is an environment that was made to be punishing (another way to say this is it was populated by the punished), and yet the extracted resources were the fundamental components of the physical container of society.