But the current funk says less about economic or technological reality than it does about the power of a certain 20th-century technological glamour: all those images of space flight, elevated highways and flying cars, with their promise of escape from mundane existence into a better, more exciting place called The Future. These visions imprinted themselves so vividly on the public’s consciousness that they left some of the smartest, most technologically savvy denizens of the 21st century blind to much of the progress we actually enjoy.
“The future that people in the 1960s hoped to see is still the future we’re waiting for today, half a century later,” writes Founders Fund partner Bruce Gibney in the firm’s manifesto. “Instead of Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise, we got the Priceline Negotiator and a cheap flight to Cabo.”
He forgets just how exotic airplane travel was for the typical TV viewer in 1966, when “Star Trek” debuted. Today’s cheap and easily booked flights let a lot more people fly. That means the average speed at which someone travels over a lifetime can increase even if, as Thiel laments, the fastest vehicle on the planet is no faster than it was decades ago. Making an impressive technology widely available isn’t as glamorous as pushing the technological frontier, but it represents significant, real-life progress.