How did we get here?

“We live in a world in which change is primarily driven by emergent technology. We live in a world in which, I suspect, technology trumps ideology, every time. I think that’s where it’s at, as people used to say in the sixties. It isn’t as though I have any space in which to stand and say “This is loathsome!” or “This is exciting!” It seems an awful lot like Frederic Jameson’s definition of the postmodern sublime, which if I recall correctly is the mingled apprehension of dread and ecstasy.

Our reaction to these things is amazingly similar to the reaction of the Victorians to technologies like the railroad and the gramophone. If you go back to first-person accounts — diary entries of individuals encountering those things — it wasn’t like, “Wow, that’s wonderful!” They were scared shitless. They were reeling with the shock of the new. They didn’t know where anything was headed, and it made them sort of angry, often as not. I think it’s the way we react to these things.

The surprising thing about it — I almost said the insidious thing, but I’m trying to be anthropological — the surprising thing, to me, is that once we have our gramophone, or iPad, or locomotive, we become that which has the gramophone, the iPad, or the locomotive, and thereby, are instantly incapable of recognizing what just happened to us, as I believe we’re incapable of understanding what broadcast television, or the radio, or telephony did to us.

I strongly suspect that prior to those things we were something else. In that regard, our predecessors are in a sense unknowable. Imagine a world without recorded music: I always come to the conclusion that it’s impossible for me to imagine that, because I have become that which lives with recorded music.” – William Gibson