America has always been a little super-size happy. We famously do things up big. Like most outstanding attributes, this has its charm, and it can be sometimes unattractive. But grandiosity has been in our DNA since colonial days.
It can be as silly as the world’s biggest ball of twine, now up to nine tons worth, housed in Cawker City, Kansas, or as scary as the accumulation of the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, or as disgusting as the world’s largest hamburger, such as a 134-pound monstrosity cooked up in Michigan in 2008.
The most famous example of America thinking big in my lifetime was Kennedy’s promise to get us to the moon before the end of the 1960s–just as soon as we figured out how to build the world’s biggest rocket. Rash, bold–American as apple pie. And the fact that we now have to hitch rides on rockets made in Russia up to the International Space Station is more a failure of policy than vision.
Sometimes big things are an unintended consequence of small things. I don’t think America set out to connect up the whole planet with tiny personal computing devices. But once Americans get started on something, it tends to get a little out of hand. In a science fiction story from my youth, life in the twenty-first century was managed by about a dozen stadium-sized computers, each cooled by a nearby glacier. My peers who read that story along with me wound up doing the worldwide web instead. Almost un-American.
The next biggest thing is notoriously hard to predict. The space race seems to be in the past. The internet, I expect, will expand to some kind of natural limit. We’ve built the megalopolises and done the interstates, electrified the land, and accomplished other super-sized stuff.
What’s next? Is America done with doing big? Or at least big stuff that matters? Or is something in the birth throes right now–something audacious, bold enough to rock the world–and we just can’t see it in our Twitter feed?
Nominate the next biggest America-sized thing in a comment below.