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David Shields: Literature saved my life!

How literature has no chance whatsoever of saving my life anymore

Kurt Vonnegut: Contemporary writers who leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorian writers misrepresented life by leaving out sex.

“Seattle’s downtown has the smoothness of a microchip,” Charles Mudede says. “All of its defining buildings—the Central Library, Columbia Tower, Union Square towers, its stadiums—are new and evoke the spirit of twenty-first century technology and market utopianism. If there’s any history here, it’s a history of the future. The city’s landmark, the Space Needle, doesn’t point to the past but always to tomorrow.”

Most new technologies appear to undergo three distinct phases. At first, the computer was so big and expensive that only national governments had the resources to build and operate one. Only the Army and a handful of universities had multi-room-sized computers. A little later, large corporations with substantial research budgets, such as IBM, developed computers. The computer made its way into midsized businesses and schools. Not until the late ’70s and early ’80s did the computer shrink enough in size and price to be widely available to individuals. Exactly the same pattern has played out with nylon, access to mass communication, access to high-quality printing, Humvees, GPS, the web, handheld wireless communications, etc., etc. (Over a longer timeline, something quite similar happened with international trade: at first, global interaction was possible only between nations, then between large companies, and only now can a private citizen get anything he wants manufactured by a Chinese factory and FedExed to his shop.)

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