Early in the pandemic era, the Netscape founder Marc Andreessen published a manifesto that was so on-point for the themes of The Decadent Society that I cited it in the paperback. His argument was that many of the institutional debacles in the West’s response to the coronavirus reflected a longstanding failure to build, a comfort with stagnation and sclerosis visible everywhere from our physical environment to our regulatory apparatus to our transportation infrastructure and education system. If the pandemic taught us anything significant about our future, then, it was that we need a different and more old-fashioned-American sort of culture — one in which “every step of the way, to everyone around us, we should be asking the question, what are you building? What are you building directly, or helping other people to build, or teaching other people to build, or taking care of people who are building?”
Notably, the manifesto only glancingly mentioned the internet and virtual reality, which meant that it effectively avoided taking a position on a set of difficult questions hanging over would-be techno-futurists. Stipulating that the internet is our great shining example of technological progress in the last fifty years, have Silicon Valley and all its works and pomps been good or bad for non-virtual forms of innovation? Should we be confident that the further internet-ization of Western life can go hand in hand with other technological leaps forward? Or alternatively, is our progress into realms of virtuality and simulation actually intimately connected to the dearth of building in the real world?