Even if the future is awesome, it wont feel awesome to the people of that time

When we overlook hedonic normalization we tend to significantly overstate the extent to which technological progress will boost the happiness of future people. I would be very happy to abruptly find myself on board a 23rd century starship. But this is not how people hedonically normalized to 23rd century will feel. The error of ignoring hedonic normalization is especially apparent when we think about the past. Techno-optimists point to the big differences that technological change has made to our world. Mary Beard’s description of the streets of ancient Pompeii covered in animal dung, rotting vegetables, human excrement and flies makes modern city dwellers glad to be alive now. But imagining how a time traveller from the early 21st century would feel to find herself marooned in Pompeii does not tell us how people hedonically normalized to that time felt. Doubtless the Pompeians would have preferred cleaner streets. But the filthiness of their streets did not affect them in the way that it would affect someone normalized to our comparatively refuse and excrement-free highways and byways. To see this more clearly consider how people from the 23rd century will feel about life in our times. The conditions of our cities are clearly not perfect – but they are not nearly as bad for us as they will seem to someone normalized to the cities that 23rd century technologies will build. [link]


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