July 27th, 2008at 05:58pm Posted by Eli
My advisor and one of my favorite profs at Stanford, Joe Corn, got interviewed by Matt Novak, the Paleo-Future blogger, about his book, Yesterday’s Tomorrows (which I have just ordered) and the concept of “future shock”:
Matt Novak: Have you ever read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock?
Joseph Corn: I did. I so vividly remember reading it in a campground in the Redwoods in Northern California.
MN: What did you think of it then and what do you think of his ideas now?
JC: [long pause] They deserve re-examination now, the concept of future shock. At the time of his writing . . . I didn’t really find it that persuasive. People talk as if future shock is a major syndrome that deserves Medicare treatment today, and I sort of feel that way. The pace at which software changes and technology generally, although it is still filling in . . . Filling in the cracks is not the right metaphor . . . I’ve had a personal computer now for 25 years and it is so different. The web, plus wireless, plus speed, plus miniaturization in the laptop form makes it something different. As we carry these things around with us when we couldn’t with an IBM PC.
MN: Do you think that all this technological change that you’ve seen recently, is that harming us? Because that seems to be the main thesis of his . . .
JC: I don’t buy that. As a historian I’m very skeptical. I think we’re trained professionally to be skeptical of . . . you might put it, in terms of the Golden Age fallacy. There was a moment when things were better and everything’s been done since. I just can’t buy that. One could worry and yet, I don’t. I just see it as different. As fascinatingly different. I just don’t see civilization going to hell in a handbasket. [long pause] At least I don’t want to.
Joe Corn was (and presumably still is) indefatigably interested and enthusiastic about everything, particularly the co-evolution of technology and culture. I read one of his earlier books, The Winged Gospel, for one of his courses, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a fascinating study of the early days of aviation, when there were all kinds of extravagant claims about how flight would fundamentally change human nature. And I don’t mean the impact of being able to travel virtually anywhere, but stuff about how being physically closer to Heaven and the angels would make us more angel-like, or that we would end up living in the air and not require any other sustenance.
Fun stuff. A year or two after I graduated, I caught up with him on a visit to campus, and he was all excited about this new course he was teaching, on the history of technical manuals. I know, that sounds like it would be the most boring class ever, but he started talking about how they made the propagation and popularization of technology possible, and it started sounding pretty good to me. Had I still been a student, I’m sure I would have signed up for it and had a blast.
Thanks, Joe. Teachers like you were what made learning worthwhile.