I’ve always loved this quote because it captures so succinctly the experience of modern life. We are surrounded by extraordinary juxtapositions of old and new; technologies of this decade next to technologies of the last century and beyond.
As I write this now I’m sat at a train station using a three-year old Macbook Pro. I’m about to get on a train that looks like it was constructed in the 1970s (and that’s being generous) based on technology that hasn’t changed fundamentally since the 1800s. The clothes I’m wearing are largely cotton. Style aside (and there isn’t much of that) they would be entirely familiar to someone from the same era. As would my shoes, bag, wallet etc.
Back home I sleep in a bed, wash in a bathroom, and cook in a kitchen using technology that would not give a citizen of the early 1900s much surprise. But dotted around are things they would consider extraordinary: flatscreen TV, digital radio, desktop PC (I know, very last decade). The house itself is brick: not exactly space age.
Why is it that the technology of our lives advances at such different rates? Of course there have been incremental advances in all of the items I have mentioned: materials science has moved on, expectations of running water and access to energy have advanced, and even this ancient train uses hydraulics and combustion engines the Victorians could only dream of.
But at their core much has changed little since its first inception. Is it because we just haven’t gotten around to looking at them yet? The capitalist nature of our society would suggest that is unlikely: surely if someone could radically improve the bed there would be money in it?
Maybe the technology exists but is uneconomical to produce? Or perhaps the great leap has been imagined but can’t be realised without some further leaps in our mastery of science.
Or just perhaps there won’t be great leaps in all these things: change will be slow and incremental because what we have today represents the fulfilment of today’s requirements.
Maybe the answer is all of the above. It certainly helps to keep life interesting.