In the light of an article which ran in the Guardian following the Brexit referendum and the near-contemporary sale of ARM to a Japanese corporation, which suggested that Cambridge might now be in terminal decline, I have been considering what post-post-industrial decay might look like.
It is my hope that it looks something like Soviet industrial decay. I spent parts of yesterday discussing industrial decline and decay with various of my students (German and Spanish, as it happened), and mostly in the context of the railways. My Spanish student, Carlos, pointed out to me that the the Soviet Union had ‘developed’ a high-speed railway in the 1960s and 1970s. It was called the SVL or ‘Reaction’ train, had some fearsome-looking jet propulsion gear on the roof, not unlike Flash Gordon’s pioneering rocket ship, and could manage a top speed of 160 mph.
Comical, perhaps, but at about the same time Britain was sinking the national debt into the development of a similarly rubbish high speed train, called the Advanced Passenger Train or APT, which solved the problem of the curves in the West Coast mainline by the introduction of an active tilting mechanism. The train never got beyond the teething trouble stage (although its design was adopted by many current high-speed trains).
I do not suppose that Cambridge in years to come will be strewn with the rusting detritus and remnant of the knowledge economy. No tangleweed of fibre-optic cable, no calculus-graffiti, no digital snow. Although I did once visit a warehouse of old computers in Foxton, just outside Cambridge, piled high with that grubby yellowish-cream plastic all computers used to be made of. Perhaps we are already living it.