Drugs, technology, and capitalism- not yet starring Bradley Cooper

In a 1901 edition of Strand magazine Wells’s the New Accelerator found itself in the same volume as the Hound of the Baskervilles and a series of cute reader-submitted photographs including a guy in a chicken costume, somebody’s dog, and a bird’s nest made over a doorway. In 1926 Wells’s story found itself recontextualized in a magazine which, more than offering fantastically entertaining stories and dog pics, was aimed at a working class with aspirations for upward mobility through technological industries. To read the New Accelerator in Amazing Stories a reader would have to flip past an ad encouraging readers to go into radio -”Short hours. BIG Pay”- and another for the booklet “How to Work Wonders With Words” promising to offer readers the skills necessary to be upwardly mobile among professionals “In 15 Minutes a Day.”

Wells’s story is in this volume not as a curiosity but as a part of an imaginative enterprise which saw technology and technological professions as a way to disrupt the particular orientation towards time produced by wage labor, in this case the technologies of the growing pharmaceutical industry. But the pharmaceutical technology we find in this story does not offer utopia, it in fact furthers the one-dimensionalisation of time. The next step for the story’s professor after making the accelerator is to make a retarder, which allows people to check out of their lives. This choice between intense attention and dissociation operates along the axis of value, some time spent is valuable and some time is not, and the non-productive time is not worth experiencing at all. The accelerator also accelerates the unequal distribution of capital. The accelerator is to be sold at an expensive price, which means that those able to take advantage of its effects would already be those with access to capital. In thinking further about the implications of this story it’s also worth considering the horrific effects of the accelerators and retardants already in circulation in the early 20th century – I’m thinking here of the opioid addicted Freikorps and a Nazi war machine running on little chocolate flavored doses of Meth.

One thought on “Drugs, technology, and capitalism- not yet starring Bradley Cooper”

  1. This story reads like a long copy advertisement, centered on a single testimonial. It very much resonates with the “How to Work Wonders. . .” ad. The illustration that heads Wells’s story is similar to the ad yet distinct from the other stories in the issue. It’s “prophetic vision” seems to depict a familiar present, rather than predict an unknown future.

    The New Accelerator is targeted at a aspirational, capital-accumulating professional class. The price is “high but. . .by no means excessive.” Translation: “Dear Mr. Lawyer/Statesman/Doctor/Writer, Don’t worry! *You* can afford this, but you may have to work for it.”

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