Technological eras

Douglas Coupland has been writing elegantly about the relationship between time and gadgets,

because there is a relationship between the two, and it’s not just about the 18-month tech cycle or the decomposition-proof materials that will allow my swaggy new Casio Module 3070 wristwatch to be around when the sun goes supernova. Any gadget we use invariably morphs our perception of time’s passing.

These shifting perceptions of time are what give eras in human history their specific textures. I was in Austin, Texas last spring and bumped into a friend from my stint at Wired magazine in the mid-90s. The encounter went along the lines of, “John – I haven’t seen you since… eBay! I haven’t seen you since… Google! I haven’t seen you since… BlackBerrys!” The point was that the use of decades and calendar years to mark eras is over. Time is measured in tech waves, and not only do these tech waves demarcate eras, they also define them.

I remember in the 80s when cellphones first started to pop. I remember how, if you saw someone using a cellphone on a street, you immediately thought they were an asshole: gee, my phone call is so important I have to make it right here and right now! Twenty years later, we’re all assholes. We’re assholes at the supermarket’s meat counter at 5:30pm, phoning home to ask if we need prosciutto; we’re assholes driving in traffic; and we’re assholes wandering down the streets. And with cellphones and handhelds, we collapse time and space and our perception of distance and intimacy…