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Into the Future

October 29, 2011

One of my teaching and research interests involves the history of the future—how past societies imagined their future. Typically, this takes on a heavy technological emphasis and rests on the notion that existing technology shapes the future imagined, while the future imagined—in turn—shapes how technologies evolve (where’s my flying car??).

I’ve been thinking about this a bit more than usual recently, since I’ve been working on a couple of short pieces for a project on the history of environmental predictions (I’m looking at Paul Ehrlich’s population jeremiad and the Club of Rome’s work, The Limits to Growth). And I’ve been revamping my undergraduate course on the history of the future. So, more and more, this has been in my mind.

Twinned with this existing interest is this post over at the Inner Ring, and a visit yesterday to one of the high end bike shops in the area, where I chatted with one of the employees about Shimano’s new(ish) electronic shifting systems. I messed around with the Di2 Dura Ace gruppo—very impressive—and learned a bit about the imminent arrival of the Di2 Ultegra components, which should be available shortly. This ought to make electronic shifting much more affordable (relatively speaking; we’re still looking at bikes in the $5000 kind of price range—so, not affordable for me) and more widespread. What will that mean for the future of cycling? If Moore’s Law has any play in the cycling industry (and there’s no reason to think it should… or shouldn’t), then we ought to see considerable expansion of these new technologies and their accessibility in the years to come.

As fascinating as the Di2 gruppo was, the traditionalist in me was quietly appalled at the futuristic sound as the gears seamlessly shifted at the push of a button. Ergonomically more efficient; more reliable; easier. But there’s something about the clicking of the gears that attunes rider to bicycles. Of course, I’m sure that’s what purists thought with the advent of STI shifters away from the gears on the downtube…

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