Why haven’t we celebrated any major achievements lately?

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In read­ing sto­ries of progress, one thing that has struck me was the wild, en­thu­si­as­tic cel­e­bra­tions that ac­com­panied some of them in the past. Read some of these sto­ries; some­how it’s hard for me to imag­ine similar ju­bila­tion hap­pen­ing to­day:

The US transcon­ti­nen­tal railroad, 1869

The transcon­ti­nen­tal railroad was the first to link the US east and west. Prior to the railroad, to travel from coast to coast could take six months, whether by land or sea, and the jour­ney was hard and per­ilous. Cal­ifor­nia was like a for­eign colony, sep­a­rated from the life and in­dus­try of the East. The railroad changed that com­pletely, tak­ing a six-month jour­ney down to a mat­ter of days.

Here’s how the west­ern cities re­acted, from Stephen Am­brose’s book Noth­ing Like It in the World:

At 5 A.M. on Satur­day, a Cen­tral Pa­cific train pul­led into Sacra­mento car­ry­ing cel­e­brants from Ne­vada, in­clud­ing fire­men and a brass band. They got the fes­tivi­ties go­ing by start­ing their pa­rade. A brass can­non, the very one that had saluted the first shov­elful of earth Le­land Stan­ford had turned over for the be­gin­ning of the CP’s con­struc­tion six years ear­lier, boomed once again.

The pa­rade was mam­moth. At its height, about 11 A.M. in Sacra­mento, the time the or­ga­niz­ers had been told the join­ing of the rails would take place, twenty-three of the CP’s lo­co­mo­tives, led by its first, the Gover­nor Stan­ford, let loose a shriek of whis­tles that lasted for fif­teen min­utes.

In San Fran­cisco, the pa­rade was the biggest held to date. At 11 A.M., a fif­teen-inch Par­rott rifled can­non at Fort Point, guard­ing the south shore of the Golden Gate, fired a salute. One hun­dred guns fol­lowed. Then fire bells, church bells, clock tow­ers, ma­chine shops, stream­ers, foundries, the U.S. Mint let go at full blast. The din lasted for an hour.

In both cities, the cel­e­bra­tion went on through Satur­day, Sun­day, and Mon­day.

The Brook­lyn Bridge, 1883

The Brook­lyn Bridge did not con­nect a dis­tance nearly as great as the transcon­ti­nen­tal railroad, but it too was met with grand cel­e­bra­tions. An ex­cerpt from David McCul­lough’s The Great Bridge:

When the Erie Canal was opened in the au­tumn of 1825, there were four former Pres­i­dents of the United States pre­sent in New York City for the oc­ca­sion—John Adams, Thomas Jeffer­son, James Madi­son, and James Mon­roe—as well as John Quincy Adams, then oc­cu­py­ing the White House, and Gen­eral An­drew Jack­son, who would take his place. When the Brook­lyn Bridge was opened on May 24, 1883, the main at­trac­tion was Ch­ester A. Arthur. …

Seth Low made the offi­cial greet­ing for the City of Brook­lyn, the Marines pre­sented arms, a sig­nal flag was dropped nearby and in­stantly there was a crash of a gun from the Ten­nessee. Then the whole fleet com­menced firing. Steam whis­tles on ev­ery tug, steam­boat, ferry, ev­ery fac­tory along the river, be­gan to scream. More can­non boomed. Bells rang, peo­ple were cheer­ing wildly on ev­ery side. The band played “Hail to the Chief” maybe six or seven more times, and as the New York Sun re­ported, “the cli­max of four­teen years’ sus­pense seemed to have been reached, since the Pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica had walked dry shod to Brook­lyn from New York.”

Not only did they cel­e­brate, they an­a­lyzed and philoso­phized:

What was it all about? What was ev­ery­one cel­e­brat­ing? The speak­ers of the day had a num­ber of ideas. The bridge was a “won­der of Science,” an “as­tound­ing ex­hi­bi­tion of the power of man to change the face of na­ture.” It was a mon­u­ment to “en­ter­prise, skill, faith, en­durance.” It was also a mon­u­ment to “pub­lic spirit,” “the moral qual­ities of the hu­man soul,” and a great, ev­er­last­ing sym­bol of “Peace.” The words used most of­ten were “Science,” “Com­merce,” and “Courage,” and some of the ideas ex­pressed had the fa­mil­iar ring of a Fourth of July ora­tion. …

… ev­ery speaker that af­ter­noon seemed to be say­ing that the open­ing of the bridge was a na­tional event, that it was a triumph of hu­man effort, and that it some­how marked a turn­ing point. It was the be­gin­ning of some­thing new, and al­though none of them ap­peared very sure what was go­ing to be, they were con­fi­dent it would be an im­prove­ment over the past and pre­sent.

The cel­e­bra­tions cul­mi­nated with an enor­mous fire­works show:

In all, four­teen tons of fire­works—more than ten thou­sand pieces—were set off from the bridge. It lasted a solid hour. There was not a mo­ment’s letup. One me­te­oric burst fol­lowed an­other. …

… fi­nally, at nine, as the dis­play on the bridge ended with one in­cred­ible bar­rage—five hun­dred rock­ets fired all at once—ev­ery whis­tle and horn on the river joined in. The rock­ets “broke into mil­lions of stars and a shower of golden rain which de­scended upon the bridge and the river.” Bells were rung, gongs were beaten, men and women yel­led them­selves hoarse, mu­si­ci­ans blew them­selves red in the face.

Com­par­ing this to an­other ac­com­plish­ment we’ll re­turn to be­low, McCul­lough writes:

In an­other time and in what would seem an­other world, on a day when two young men were walk­ing on the moon, a very old woman on Long Is­land would tell re­porters that the pub­lic ex­cite­ment over the feat was not so much com­pared to what she had seen “on the day they opened the Brook­lyn Bridge.”

Elec­tric light­ing, 1879

The elec­tric light bulb was per­haps not met with pa­rades or fire­works, but it did at­tract vis­i­tors from far and wide just to see the mar­vel. From Robert Gor­don’s The Rise and Fall of Amer­i­can Growth:

Few, if any in­ven­tions, have been more en­thu­si­as­ti­cally wel­comed than elec­tric light. Through­out the win­ter of 1879–1880, thou­sands trav­eled to Menlo Park to see the “light of the fu­ture,” in­clud­ing farm­ers whose houses would never be elec­trified in their life­times. Trav­el­ers on the nearby Penn­syl­va­nia Railroad could see the brilli­ant lights glow­ing in the Edi­son offices. The news was an­nounced to the world on De­cem­ber 21, 1879, with a full-page story in the New York Her­ald, opened by this dra­matic and long-winded head­line: EDISON’S LIGHT—THE GREAT INVENTOR’S TRIUMPH IN ELECTRIC ILLUMINATION—A SCRAP OF PAPER—IT MAKES A LIGHT, WITHOUT GAS OR FLAME, CHEAPER THAN OIL—SUCCESS IN A COTTON THREAD. On New Year’s Eve of 1879, 3,000 peo­ple con­verged by train, car­riage, and farm wagon on the Edi­son lab­o­ra­tory to wit­ness the brilli­ant dis­play, a planned lab­o­ra­tory open house of daz­zling moder­nity to launch the new decade.

The po­lio vac­cine, 1955

Rails, bridges and lights were cel­e­brated in part be­cause they greatly re­lieved the bur­dens of dis­tance and dark­ness. Another bur­den was lifted in 1955 when the po­lio vac­cine was an­nounced.

Po­lio ter­rified the na­tion, much more so than dis­eases such as tu­ber­cu­lo­sis that were ac­tu­ally much big­ger kil­lers, for a few rea­sons. It struck in un­pre­dictable, dra­matic epi­demics. The epi­demics were rel­a­tively new start­ing in the late 1800s; it was not a dis­ease that had been wide­spread through­out his­tory, such as smal­l­pox. It left many vic­tims par­a­lyzed rather than kil­ling them, so its re­sults were visi­ble in the form of crutches, braces, and wheelchairs. It tar­geted chil­dren, strik­ing fear into the hearts of par­ents. And it could not be fought with the new weapons of clean­li­ness and san­i­ta­tion, which were suc­cess­ful against so many other dis­eases. This added guilt to the fear, as par­ents of po­lio vic­tims ob­sessed over what they had done wrong in failing to pro­tect their chil­dren.

So it’s un­der­stand­able that the en­tire na­tion was ea­ger to hear the news of a vac­cine, and went wild when it was achieved. From Break­through: The Saga of Jonas Salk, by Richard Carter:

On April 12, 1955, the world learned that a vac­cine de­vel­oped by Jonas Ed­ward Salk, M.D., could be re­lied upon to pre­vent par­a­lytic po­liomyelitis. This news con­sum­mated the most ex­traor­di­nary un­der­tak­ing in the his­tory of sci­ence, a huge re­search pro­ject led by a Wall Street lawyer and fi­nanced by the Amer­i­can peo­ple through hun­dreds of mil­lions of small dona­tions. More than a sci­en­tific achieve­ment, the vac­cine was a folk vic­tory, an oc­ca­sion for pride and ju­bila­tion. A con­ta­gion of love swept the world. Peo­ple ob­served mo­ments of silence, rang bells, honked horns, blew fac­tory whis­tles, fired salutes, kept their traf­fic lights red in brief pe­ri­ods of trib­ute, took the rest of the day off, closed their schools or con­voked fervid as­sem­blies therein, drank toasts, hugged chil­dren, at­tended church, smiled at strangers, for­gave en­e­mies….

The ar­dent peo­ple named schools, streets, hos­pi­tals, and new­born in­fants af­ter him. They sent him checks, cash, money or­ders, stamps, scrolls, cer­tifi­cates, pressed flow­ers, snap­shots, candy, baked goods, re­li­gious medals, rab­bits’ feet and other tal­is­mans, and un­counted thou­sands of let­ters and tele­grams, both in­di­vi­d­ual and round-robin, de­scribing their heart­felt grat­i­tude and ad­mira­tion. They offered him free au­to­mo­biles, agri­cul­tural equip­ment, cloth­ing, va­ca­tions, lu­cra­tive jobs in gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try, and sev­eral hun­dred op­por­tu­ni­ties to get rich quick. Their leg­is­la­tures and par­li­a­ments passed re­s­olu­tions, and their heads of state is­sued procla­ma­tions. Their uni­ver­si­ties ten­dered hon­orary de­grees. He was nom­i­nated for the No­bel prize, which he did not get, and a Con­gres­sional medal, which he got, and mem­ber­ship in the Na­tional Academy of Sciences, which turned him down. He was men­tioned for sev­eral dozen lesser awards of na­tional or lo­cal or purely pro­mo­tional char­ac­ter, most of which he turned down.

Not all of this hap­pened on April 12, 1955, but much of it did. Salk awak­ened that morn­ing as a mod­er­ately promi­nent re­search pro­fes­sor on the fac­ulty of the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh School of Medicine. He ended the day as the most be­loved med­i­cal sci­en­tist on earth.

David Osh­in­sky adds more de­tails in Po­lio: An Amer­i­can Story:

There had been cel­e­bra­tions like this for ath­letes, sol­diers, poli­ti­ci­ans, avi­a­tors—but never for a sci­en­tist. Gifts and hon­ors poured in from a grate­ful na­tion. Philadelphia awarded Salk its Poor Richard Medal for dis­t­in­guished ser­vice to hu­man­ity. Mu­tual of Omaha gave him its Criss Award, along with a $10,000 check, for his con­tri­bu­tion to pub­lic health. The Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh was swamped with thank-you notes and “dona­tions” ad­dressed to Dr. Salk. His lab was “knee-deep in mail,” a staffer re­called. “Paper money [went] into one bin, checks into an­other, and metal coins into a third.” (How much was col­lected, and who kept what, was never fully di­vulged.) Ele­men­tary schools sent gi­ant posters—WE LOVE YOU DR. SALK—signed by the en­tire stu­dent body. Win­nipeg, Canada, site of a ma­jor po­lio epi­demic in 1953, sent a 208-foot tele­gram of con­grat­u­la­tion adorned with each sur­vivor’s name. A town in the Texas pan­han­dle bought him two heart­felt, if com­i­cally in­ap­pro­pri­ate, gifts: a plow and a fully equipped Oldsmo­bile 98. (Salk gave the plow to an or­phan­age and had the car sold so the town could buy more po­lio vac­cine.) A new Cadillac ar­rived and was donated to char­ity. Col­leges begged him to ac­cept their hon­orary de­grees. Newsweek lauded “A Quiet Young Man’s Mag­nifi­cent Vic­tory,” in­sist­ing that Salk’s name was now “as se­cure a word in the med­i­cal dic­tio­nary as Jen­ner, Pas­teur, Schick, and Lister.”

Hol­ly­wood wasn’t far be­hind. Three ma­jor stu­dios—Warner Brothers, Columbia, and Twen­tieth Cen­tury-Fox—fought for the ex­clu­sive rights to Salk’s life story. Ru­mors flew that Mar­lon Brando was an­gling for the lead—an odd choice, most agreed, but a sure sign of box office piz­zazz. Salk wisely told them no. “I be­lieve that such pic­tures are most ap­pro­pri­ately made af­ter the sci­en­tist is dead,” he re­marked, “and I’m will­ing to await my chances of such at­ten­tion at that time.”

Poli­ti­ci­ans em­braced him. One sen­a­tor in­tro­duced a bill to give the forty-year-old Salk a $10,000 an­nual stipend for life. Another pro­posed the mint­ing of a Salk dime, just like FDR’s. (Both ideas went nowhere.) Gover­nor Ge­orge Leader of Penn­syl­va­nia gave him the state’s high­est honor—the Bronze Medal for Mer­i­to­ri­ous Ser­vice—be­fore a cheer­ing joint ses­sion of the leg­is­la­ture (which soon cre­ated an en­dowed chair for Salk at the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh Med­i­cal School with a princely stipend of $25,000 a year). On an even grander scale, the U.S. House and Se­nate be­gan the bi­par­ti­san pro­cess of com­mis­sion­ing a Con­gres­sional Gold Medal, the na­tion’s high­est civilian award. Salk would be­come only the sec­ond med­i­cal re­searcher to re­ceive one, join­ing Walter Reed of yel­low fever fame. The two men were in good com­pany. Pre­vi­ous hon­orees in­cluded Thomas Edi­son, Charles Lind­bergh, Gen­eral Ge­orge C. Mar­shall, and Irv­ing Ber­lin.

Hun­dreds wrote Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower to re­quest a spe­cial White House cer­e­mony for Salk. … On April 22 Jonas and Donna Salk, their three young boys, and Basil O’Con­nor ar­rived at the White House to meet the pres­i­dent. … The Rose Gar­den cer­e­mony that day would not soon be for­got­ten. Few had ever seen Dwight Eisen­hower strug­gle with his feel­ings in such a pub­lic way. “No bands played and no flags waved,” wrote a re­porter who had fol­lowed Ike for years. “But noth­ing could have been more im­pres­sive than this grand­father stand­ing there and tel­ling Dr. Salk in a voice trem­bling with emo­tion, ‘I have no words to thank you. I am very, very happy.’”

… The ban­ner head­line in the Pitts­burgh Press on April 12, 1955 had set the tone—POLIO IS CONQUERED. The sto­ries that day spoke of moth­ers weep­ing, doc­tors cheer­ing, poli­ti­ci­ans toast­ing God and Jonas Salk.

Steven Pinker, in En­light­en­ment Now, af­ter quot­ing some of the pas­sage from Richard Carter above, adds: “The city of New York offered to honor Salk with a ticker-tape pa­rade, which he po­litely de­clined.” Speak­ing of which—

His­toric flights, 1920s and ’30s

I looked up the his­tory of ticker-tape pa­rades in New York City. Wikipe­dia has a list. Th­ese seem to have been most com­mon from about 1926 to 1965, with mul­ti­ple pa­rades a year in that pe­riod (ex­cept when the US was fight­ing WW2, when there were none), com­pared with less than one a year on av­er­age in the years be­fore or since.

What was cel­e­brated? Mostly poli­ti­ci­ans, mil­i­tary heroes, vis­it­ing for­eign lead­ers, and oc­ca­sion­ally sports cham­pi­ons. (There was one pa­rade for a mu­si­cian, Van Cliburn, af­ter he won the Moscow In­ter­na­tional Tchaikovsky Com­pe­ti­tion.)

How­ever, the 1920s and ’30s saw over a dozen pa­rades cel­e­brat­ing avi­a­tion achieve­ments, in­clud­ing Charles Lind­burgh and Amelia Earhart:

  • 1926, June 23 – Com­man­der Richard Byrd and Floyd Ben­nett, flight over the North Pole

  • 1927, June 13 – Charles Lind­bergh, fol­low­ing solo transat­lantic flight.

  • 1927, July 18 – “Dou­ble” pa­rade for Com­man­der Richard Byrd and the crew of the Amer­ica; and for Clarence Cham­ber­lin and Charles A. Lev­ine fol­low­ing sep­a­rate transat­lantic flights.

  • 1927, Novem­ber 11 – Ruth Elder and Ge­orge W. Halde­man fol­low­ing flight from New York City to the Azores.

  • 1928, April 25 – Her­mann Köhl, Ma­jor James Fitz­mau­rice, and Baron von Hünefeld fol­low­ing first west­ward transat­lantic flight

  • 1928, July 6 – Amelia Earhart, Wilmer Stultz, and Louis E. Gordon

  • 1930, Septem­ber 4 – Cap­tain Dieudonne Coste and Mau­rice Bel­lonte fol­low­ing flight from Paris to New York City.

  • 1931, July 2 – Wiley Post and Harold Gatty fol­low­ing round-the-world flight.

  • 1932, June 20 – Amelia Earhart Put­nam fol­low­ing transat­lantic flight.

  • 1933, July 21 – Air Mar­shal Italo Balbo and crew for flight from Rome to Chicago in 25 Ital­ian sea­planes.

  • 1933, July 26 – Wiley Post fol­low­ing eight-day round-the-world flight.

  • 1933, Au­gust 1 – Cap­tain James A. Mol­li­son and his wife fol­low­ing west­ward transat­lantic flight, from Wales to Con­necti­cut.

  • 1938, July 15 – Howard Hughes, fol­low­ing three-day flight around the world.

  • 1938, Au­gust 5 – Dou­glas “Wrong Way” Cor­ri­gan fol­low­ing flight from New York City to Ire­land (he was sched­uled to fly to Cal­ifor­nia).

Astro­nauts, 1962–71

Dur­ing the early space pro­gram, there were also sev­eral NYC ticker-tape pa­rades for as­tro­nauts—not just the Apollo 11 heroes, who went on a world tour af­ter the Moon land­ing, but mis­sions be­fore and af­ter as well:

  • 1962, March 1 – John Glenn, fol­low­ing the Mer­cury-At­las 6 mis­sion.

  • 1962, June 5 – Scott Car­pen­ter, fol­low­ing the Mer­cury 7 mis­sion.

  • 1963, May 22 – Gor­don Cooper, fol­low­ing the Mer­cury 9 mis­sion.

  • 1965, March 29 – Virgil “Gus” Gris­som and John Young, fol­low­ing the Gem­ini 3 mis­sion.

  • 1969, Jan­uary 10 – Frank Bor­man, James A. Lovell, and William A. An­ders, fol­low­ing the Apollo 8 mis­sion to the Moon.

  • 1969, Au­gust 13 – Neil Arm­strong, Buzz Al­drin, and Michael Col­lins, fol­low­ing Apollo 11 mis­sion to the Moon.

  • 1971, March 8 - Alan Shep­ard, Edgar Mitchell, and Stu­art Roosa, fol­low­ing Apollo 14 mis­sion to the Moon.

  • 1971, Au­gust 24 - David Scott, James Ir­win, and Alfred Wor­den, fol­low­ing Apollo 15 mis­sion to the Moon.

And much later:

  • 1998, Novem­ber 16 – John Glenn and as­tro­nauts of Space Shut­tle Dis­cov­ery mis­sion STS-95.

Apollo 11 pa­rade Wiki­me­dia /​ NASA

Re­cent cel­e­bra­tions?

I’m hav­ing a hard time com­ing up with any ma­jor cel­e­bra­tions of sci­en­tific, tech­nolog­i­cal, or in­dus­trial achieve­ments since the Apollo Pro­gram.

When I al­luded to this on Twit­ter, some peo­ple sug­gested the long lines of con­sumers wait­ing to buy iPhones. I don’t count that in the same cat­e­gory: it shows a de­sire for a product. I’m look­ing for out­right cel­e­bra­tion.

It’s not that no one cares about progress any­more. Plenty of peo­ple still get ex­cited by sci­ence news, new in­ven­tions, and break­through achieve­ments—es­pe­cially in space, which has a strong “cool­ness” fac­tor. Noah Smith pol­led his fol­low­ers, and ~75% of re­spon­dents said they “cel­e­brated or got very ex­cited about” the Mars Path­fin­der land­ing in 1996. More re­cently, many peo­ple in my cir­cles were ex­cited about the SpaceX Dragon launch a few months ago. But a minor­ity of geeks ex­cit­edly watch­ing live feeds from home doesn’t com­pare, in my opinion, to the cel­e­bra­tions de­scribed above.

It’s also not that we don’t honor progress in any way. For­mal in­sti­tu­tions such as the No­bel prizes still do so on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. I’m talk­ing more about ad-hoc dis­plays of en­thu­si­asm and ad­mira­tion.

Some hypotheses

Here are a few hy­pothe­ses for why there haven’t been any ma­jor cel­e­bra­tions of progress in the last ~50 years:

• There haven’t been as many big ac­com­plish­ments. We haven’t gone back to the Moon or cured can­cer. We haven’t solved traf­fic or auto ac­ci­dents. This is the stag­na­tion hy­poth­e­sis.

But what about the progress we have made? What about com­put­ers and the In­ter­net? What about se­quenc­ing the hu­man genome or pro­duc­ing in­sulin us­ing ge­netic en­g­ineer­ing?

This leads to the sec­ond hy­poth­e­sis:

• The progress we have made hasn’t been the kind that lends it­self to big pub­lic cel­e­bra­tions. Cel­e­bra­tions are gen­er­ally for big, visi­ble achieve­ments that were com­pleted at a defined point and that the pub­lic could eas­ily un­der­stand. Com­put­ers and the In­ter­net were not ob­vi­ously about to change the world when they were in­vented, and they did so grad­u­ally, over decades. The hu­man genome was big sci­ence news but too re­moved from im­me­di­ate prac­ti­cal benefit to cause danc­ing in the streets.

Similar ex­pla­na­tions seem to ap­ply to achieve­ments in the past. For in­stance, in con­trast to the po­lio vac­cine, I can’t re­mem­ber read­ing about any cel­e­bra­tions of Ed­ward Jen­ner’s smal­l­pox vac­cine. The con­cept of vac­cines (and even in­oc­u­la­tion, the tech­nique that pre­ceded vac­ci­na­tion) was too new and too con­tro­ver­sial. It took time for ev­ery­one to be­lieve and ac­cept that the vac­cine worked. A cen­tury and a half later, af­ter the germ the­ory was es­tab­lished and there were many clear suc­cesses of fight­ing dis­ease with sci­ence, the pub­lic was ready to cel­e­brate the po­lio vac­cine.

Take an­other ex­am­ple, the Haber-Bosch pro­cess. This was cer­tainly one to cel­e­brate, but I don’t re­call any pa­rades or fire­works for it. Again, it seems per­haps too tech­ni­cal and re­moved from what the gen­eral pub­lic could get ex­cited about.

• Peo­ple cel­e­brate things differ­ently now, maybe in less for­mal and pub­lic ways. As noted, the ticker-tape pa­rades in NYC waned af­ter the mid-1960s. In an era of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, maybe peo­ple don’t have as much of a need to get to­gether in large groups? Maybe 21st-cen­tury cel­e­bra­tion takes the form of some­thing get­ting ten mil­lion likes on Face­book?

I have a hard time buy­ing this one. We still hold pa­rades for sports cham­pi­onships, launch fire­works for the Olympics, and gather in large groups for New Year’s Eve. I think there is still a psy­cholog­i­cal need for big, pub­lic cel­e­bra­tions.

• We just don’t ap­pre­ci­ate progress as much as we used to. I’m not sure we need this hy­poth­e­sis, in that I think the first two ex­plain all of the ob­ser­va­tions so far. But I be­lieve it, be­cause it matches a broader trend of wan­ing en­thu­si­asm and grow­ing skep­ti­cism and even an­tag­o­nism to­wards progress. As a thought ex­per­i­ment, can you imag­ine Pres­i­den­tial speeches and a brass band at the open­ing of a bridge to­day?

What will hap­pen for fu­ture achieve­ments?

OK, you might say, bridges have be­come com­mon­place. What if it wasn’t a bridge, but the first space ele­va­tor? Would that be met with cel­e­bra­tion? Or op­po­si­tion? Or a yawn?

Or take a less sci-fi ex­am­ple. How will we greet the COVID-19 vac­cine, when it ar­rives hope­fully in the next year or two? Will peo­ple “ring bells, honk horns, blow whis­tles, fire salutes, drink toasts, hug chil­dren, and for­give en­e­mies”? Will they “name schools, streets, hos­pi­tals, and new­born in­fants” af­ter the cre­ator?

Or what if Elon Musk suc­ceeds with a manned mis­sion to Mars? When the first Mar­tian as­tro­nauts re­turn, will they go on world tour like Arm­strong, Al­drin and Col­lins?

I don’t know. Maybe! It will be in­ter­est­ing to see.