Tangible and Intangible
Tangible infrastructure enables a society to come, get and stay together. Think back on the last couple of hundred of years. Around 1850, the railroads began to spread everywhere. It took about 50 years until they began to go underground as well. Along with that, there was telegraph and then telephones followed by radio and TV, followed by cable TV, the Internet and WIFI. After WWII the interstate highway system began and continues today. Bridges, tunnels and aqueducts also were built everywhere.
Note that in today’s dollars all that construction would amount to many trillions of dollars. And also note that it was paid for by combinations of public and private dollars over many years.
Almost all of that construction by definition would need in due course some combination of updating, renewal and replacement.
With very few exceptions, virtually no provision was made for keeping these systems modern and up to date.
If that was not SIMPLY nationwide stupidity, it is hard to give it a name. But, that is where we are now!
Intangible infrastructure is how our population related to one another and worked together or not.
We had ups and downs in the first half of the 19th Century over State’s rights, national banking and commerce – and slavery which had been finessed in 1800, then simmered until we fought our bloodiest war ever, which still today reminds us occasionally that we have not always gotten along as one nation undivided.
Then came wide public use of telegraph, telephone; then radio; then TV. AND THEN the biggest revolution of all, the Internet and social media with its echo chambers, etc. That has rendered a lot of the earlier intangible infrastructures both obsolete and even counterproductive.
And, that is where we are NOW.
So, we find ourselves with twin infrastructure problems. Our roads, bridges, tunnels, subways and more – which once brought the country closer together – are rotting in place due to neglect (and lack of funds), while the Internet, social media and other modern marvels seem to be driving us further apart, and giving our enemies the ability to undermine us.
Both will take a long time to fix; they both took a long time coming.
They can only be fixed slowly and incrementally, which is originally how they came to be.
Neither will be fixed IF we cannot first agree that they really are problems that MUST be fixed.
Neither can be fixed if we simply decide to throw an exciting snowball in their direction.
We need a new big and basic national strategy built on fixing these two problems over time slowly and steadily.
If I were 30 years younger, I would be tempted to seek public office with that goal as my program.
It would address all our historic needs as well, jobs and peace and good will at home and abroad.
Let’s call it “Manage the Future” or it will shrink us.