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The Golden Quarter

Entry 1827, on 2016-12-14 at 17:40:46 (Rating 3, Comments)

I recently read an article titled "Aviation is flying into exciting times" which claimed to list the most exciting new developments in aviation which are about to happen. The list included: more choice of airlines and better prices; more connectivity (basically, internet services in flight); new planes and cabins including the B787, A350 and upgraded 777s; better loyalty schemes; and some new equipment for New Zealand's air force (actually just aircraft which have been around for a while but are still newer than the rather ancient Hercules we have now).

That's pretty exciting, isn't it? Well if you are still awake after reading that compelling list (not) you will probably answer "no, not really".

And it isn't. One reason I find it a bit uninspiring is that I have just finished reading Jonathan Glancey's book "Concorde: The Rise and Fall of the Supersonic Airliner". And I have also spent some time researching the "The Golden Quarter", which is the idea that many of our greatest cultural and technological achievements happened between 1945 and 1971, and that progress has stalled since then.

I'm not totally convinced that the idea of technological and social stagnation in the last 45 years is true, but I do see some signs that the ideas has some merit, and I have commented on similar ideas before coming across the Golden Quarter concept.

If I compare the world of 1971 with today there are very obvious technological changes, especially in the area of computing and communications. Also, every other significant area of technology has progressed very obviously.

For example, the cars of today are hugely superior to those of the 1970s. They are far more reliable, far more powerful, better handling, have better economy, and they are a lot safer. And despite what I said in the first paragraphs of this post, modern aircraft are much more advanced than aircraft of the 70s in similar ways.

But this is all about evolution rather than revolution. And building aircraft with good fuel economy and safety is important, but it doesn't have the same "cool factor" as building a commercial airliner which can travel at over double the speed of sound! In comparison, current commercial jets fly at about 0.8 to 0.9 times the speed of sound.

Here are a few things which are claimed to have come from the Golden Quarter:
electronics, computers and the birth of the internet, nuclear power, television, antibiotics, space travel, civil rights, the pill, feminism, teenage culture, the Green Revolution in agriculture, decolonisation, popular music, mass aviation, the gay rights movement, cheap reliable cars, high-speed trains, a man on the Moon, a probe to Mars, the elimination of smallpox, and the discovery of the structure of DNA.

I tried to get a list of significant achievements since then and they might include: the Hubble Space Telescope, the LHC, the discovery of gravitational waves, gene sequencing, huge advances in the power and price of computers, and the modernisation of certain countries (China, India) leading to a better standard of living.

Sure, it's significant, but compared with the first list it's not that impressive, is it?

And what about the areas where we are (or seem to be) going backwards? Conservative and nationalistic politics seems to have become popular. The total number of people affected by conflict is reducing but there are still many examples of war and terrorism around the world. Science funding seems to be becoming more difficult, and science is more often asked to contribute to commercial solutions rather than perform much more important fundamental research.

So if my hypothesis is correct, what went wrong?

I think it is just a phase we are going through, which started in the 1970s, when the current political-economic environment began. Clearly people are getting rather sick of all the unfulfilled promises and things are now changing. Unfortunately they appear to be becoming even more repressive, irrational, and unprogressive than before.

So unfortunately it looks like we really are heading down hill, and I don't think we will have another golden quarter in the foreseeable future.

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