Let’s play a guessing game. Name the technology.
Which technology ‘assembled all man on one great place, whence they can see everything that is done and hear everything that is said and judge of every policy that is pursued at the very moment when these events take place’?
Which technology ushered in ‘a new organisation of society – a state of things where every individual, however secluded, will have at his every call every other individual in the community, to the saving of no end of social and business complications, of needless goings to and fro’?
It sounds very modern, doesn’t it?
But the above insights are about technologies that debuted well over 100 years ago. The first came from the Marquess of Salisbury regarding the telegraph, in 1889. The second came from Scientific American in 1880, about the telephone.
The world has always been changing, it’s nothing new. But it is the case now that we live in a particularly bewildering age.
As far back as the 1960s, the Canadian theorist Marshal McLuhan thought electronic communications would project us into a global village where the culture of distance would obliterated. Our senses would allow us to see, hear, and be concerned about everyone everywhere.
The British sociologist, Anthony Giddens, summed up our times quite nicely a couple of decades ago – ours is a runaway world.
Everywhere people feel a loss of control over their lives and communities, of time seeming to speed up, blurring our environment, while distance seems to be an archaic concern.
Yet our age is paradoxical. We’re ripped apart and tied together by technology.
Remember Nokia’s old slogan ‘Connecting People’? It reflected the promise that newer digital networks heralded the latest stage in connecting our globe, putting people at the call of all others.
But who are we connected to and how?
A tap here, a swipe there, and I’m in Kim Kardashian’s bedroom. With a couple of prods of my finger, my long lost cousin is back in touch.
Yet as I write this, I’m sitting on a train where everyone around me is staring into a screen that connects them to others, but simultaneously disconnects them from those around them.
As social media has flourished, we appear to be have entered colder times. We’re now closer to people on the other side of the world than people right next to us. Yes, our digital age has connected us to people we would otherwise not know, but at the same time it seems to have isolated us from people we do
And while the digital world has allowed much easier and freer access to information, this is during a time where we willingly deliver our intimate notes, photographs and movements to global corporations and governments to sift through.
Seeing the lit-up faces of train travellers staring into their phone screens, ignoring the world around them, it feels that the only thing that really binds us nowadays are the global digital corporations and secret services.