November 12, 2019
You probably have to be my age to recall the excitement caused by the spread of vending machines in the early 1960s. This 4-minute Pathe newsreel from 1964 is evocative of the times.
It was hard to argue against the convenience such devices would bring us. Harold Wilson’s 1963 speech about how the “white heat” of “scientific revolution” was to be Britain’s route to the future fed into the delusion — shared by almost everyone — that technology and automation were invincible. I am concerned that many in my generation (and, worse, some much younger) are still enmeshed in the myths spun by Branson, Musk, and many other profiteers that technology is the key to the world’s problems.
I know I am not the only one who believes that mutual aid and cooperation will always outweigh technology; I hope that the eco-crisis movement will not be suckerewd into following mega-projects once again.
October 29, 2019
Fifty years ago today, the very first connection was made on Arpanet, the precursor to the internet:
That was on my 20th birthday, I was in Yugoslavia, working on a contract, oblivious to that particular history being made. I probably got drunk on bottled beer and slivovic that night but, luckily, there were no smart phones with cameras then to capture me at my worst.
I remember 1969 being a swell year, and I am glad to share it with the internet,
October 5, 2019
I read Jerry Brotton’s “History of the World in Twelve Maps“. It is an incredibly well-researched and beautifully written homage to the power of image to influence one’s view of the world.
He covers Ptolemy, Al-Idrisi, the Hereford Mappamundi, the Kangnido Map, Martin Waldseemuller’s World Map (the one that names America), Diogo Ribeiro, Mercator, Joan Blaeu, the Cassini Family, Halford Mackinder, Arno Peters, and Google Earth. Each chapter is a detailed history of the zeitgeist of the time period, and examines the philosophical, intellectual and political uses and abuses to which contemporary maps were put.
From the introduction:
Throughout most recorded history, the overwhelming majority of maps put the culture that produced them at their centre, as many of the world maps discussed in this book show. Even today;s online mapping is partly driven by the user’s desire to first locate him- or herself on the digital map … But if such a perspective literally centres individuals, it also elevates them like gods, inviting them to take flight and look down upon the earth from a divine viewpoint, surveying the whole world in one look, calmly detached, gazing upon what can only be imagined by earthbound mortals. The map’s dissimulating brilliance is to make the viewer believe, just for a moment, that such a perspective is real, that they are not still tethered to the earth, looking at a map.”
An excellent and stimulating study that I thoroughly recommend.
Earliest known world map: Iraq 700-500 BC
October 4, 2019
I was just a few weeks away from my 8th birthday when my father sat me on his knee specifically to listen to our old radio spit out some strange sounds — “Beep. Beep. Beep.” Even through the static we knew we had never heard the like of it before.
On October 4th, 1957 — just sixty-two years ago — the space age began with the launch by the Soviet Union of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite. I’m sure the surprise in the US was far greater than we felt in Europe. We Europeans were already terrified of the power of the grey beasts just a few hundred miles to the east of our cozy nest in West London. It seemed to many that Russian tanks could overrun Europe at any moment, and the technological genius of Sputnik simply confirmed our anxiety.
But again, there was always that secret spot inside that reveled in the fact that a European power had beaten the Americans into space. And for my socialist grandfather and his cadre of friends, it was yet another sign that the Workers’ Paradise was superior in every respect to the Mickey Mouse- and Doris Day-loving capitalists.
In the end, I’m sure this had little to do with the ultimate end of the Cold War. The costs of the space race were minuscule compared to the economy-shuddering trillions spent on the arms race by both sides. But without Sputnik and all that followed, we would be a very different and more distanced world today.
October 1, 2019
On 1st October 1908, the Ford Motor Co. produced the first Model T, probably the most important automobile ever produced. Henry Ford said:
“I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”
It was a huge and immediate success, opening up enhanced mobility for Everyman. From today’s perspective we can see that it was also the precursor to the dreadful congestion we have on the roads, along with all the other ills that automobiles have inflicted on us. However, for a time at least, the Model T was the great liberator of the working man and his family.
September 26, 2019
It is good to remember words of wisdom from long ago:
“[T]here is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.
Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.
Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
— Abraham Lincoln, State of the Union Speech, 3rd December 1861.