In any other era, such a plan might have been understood as a precocious youngster’s idea for a sci-fi novel, or fodder for a screenwriter’s elevator pitch. And in fact, though in the paper Musk worked through the engineering and economic problems in impressive detail, it received large quantities of professional skepticism: While physicists pointed out that the technology mostly already exists, various experts in transportation infrastructure and urban planning — people who dedicate entire careers to inching public-works projects along — found Musk laughably naïve about the difficulty of building such a thing. An opinion piece in the Guardian argued that “as a shovel-ready infrastructure project, it is dead on arrival,” and a mathematician and transportation blogger named Alon Levy vividly imagined a 760-mile-per-hour “barf ride.”
But Silicon Valley loved the barf ride. In this, the age of the moon shot — of bold missions to make flying cars and “end all disease” — Musk’s hyperloop met all the criteria of bet-the-ranch, future-shaping audacity: a big vision, promising a new, “fifth mode of transport” after planes, trains, automobiles, and boats; the high purpose of using renewable energy; utopian visuals; and, perhaps most important, a terrific pedigree. Even the Valley’s most peppy cheerleaders weary, occasionally, of pitches for the latest world-changing smartphone apps. Genuine moon shots stir real excitement in the hushed corridors of Sand Hill Road. But the difference between an intrepid moon shot and a misguided fantasy project often hinges entirely on the daredevil behind it.
Some ride the subway alone. Others cannot leave home unescorted. They hang out on Broadway and at Target. They play on the swings with the little kids, then bike home in the dark through traffic-choked streets. They exchange daily pleasantries with doormen and bodega owners and grapple with the incomprehensible fact that some people sleep on the sidewalk.
They are New Yorkers of a certain age: 13, give or take a year or two, straddling the border of childhood and adolescence. And as they move toward independence, the city’s opportunities and diversions, challenges and frustrations come into focus. This is an unusual place to grow up — sometimes magical, sometimes impossible. But it is home.
With handwriting elevated to the realm of the virtues, every technology that made writing easier had to be treated with contempt. Bards worried that handwriting would destroy our memories (it did), and scribes loathed the printing press for economic reasons, but handwriting enthusiasts were suspicious of what the typewriter would do to our souls. In 1938, a writer in the Times fretted that “the universal typewriter may swallow all.”
And, of course, keyboarding has swallowed my handwriting whole. Aside from letters in the summer, I do two things by hand: correct my students’ papers, and add items to our weekly food-shopping list. But when I do use my cursive, however seldom, it’s with a small rush of good feelings.
Now, though, the appetite for paranormal lunacy has abated, and issue-driven fiction set very much in a universe of urbanism’s chief concerns is having a renaissance. This week, “All American Boys,” a novel by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, an outgrowth of the Black Lives Matter movement, appears on The New York Times’s best-seller list for young-adult books. The story follows the beating of an innocent black child by a white police officer who thinks he has stolen a bag of chips.