Thursday, January 3, 2013

"Back when 50 miles was a long way"

Over at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, Phil picks up on the then-and-now theme and points us to this post from Michael Graham Richard with historic maps showing travel time from New York City in 1800, 1830, 1857, and 1930.

The maps are worth spending some time with (as is the comment section on Phil's post). They're also a nice segue to this observation from David Graeber's excellent essay:
Toffler’s use of acceleration was particularly unfortunate. For most of human history, the top speed at which human beings could travel had been around 25 miles per hour. By 1900 it had increased to 100 miles per hour, and for the next seventy years it did seem to be increasing exponentially. By the time Toffler was writing, in 1970, the record for the fastest speed at which any human had traveled stood at roughly 25,000 mph, achieved by the crew of Apollo 10 in 1969, just one year before. At such an exponential rate, it must have seemed reasonable to assume that within a matter of decades, humanity would be exploring other solar systems. 
Since 1970, no further increase has occurred. The record for the fastest a human has ever traveled remains with the crew of Apollo 10. True, the commercial airliner Concorde, which first flew in 1969, reached a maximum speed of 1,400 mph. And the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, which flew first, reached an even faster speed of 1,553 mph. But those speeds not only have failed to increase; they have decreased since the Tupolev Tu-144 was cancelled and the Concorde was abandoned.

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