25 11 / 2011

In his book, WiredLife: Who are we in the digital age?, Charles Jonscher uses the example of his great-grandmother, who grew up in the 1870’s in the Austro-Hungarian empire, to show how dramatically technology can change in one lifetime.

Over the course of her 94-year lifespan, she was witness to the invention of the light bulb, gasoline vehicles, and powered flight all by her mid-thirties. World War One ushered in an era of enormous technological change (the sky became a battlefield, and factories churned out weapons and munitions like never before) as well as massive human casualties. By the end of the Second World War, Man now had harnessed the power of the sun, and with it the ability to exterminate entire cities.

What we think of as modern industrial life was more or less in place by the 1950’s. At home, Americans kept up with the Joneses with electric appliances like a washing machine and vacuum cleaner. Meanwhile, the Soviet probe Luna 2 became the first spacecraft to reach the moon in 1959.

The point, as Jonscher explains it, is that “Technology had advanced from horse-drawn carts to space travel in a single lifetime.” These technological changes acted as a catalyst for enormous political and social upheaval. And although human nature and natural evolution changes much more slowly than technology, it’s important, as we move forward, to think about how different life could be from whence we started.