Monday, April 14, 2008

Broken windows

Every age believes at one and the same time that no other
age before it has been in a worse mess, and that no other
age has been quite so wonderful to live in. In our time, we
particularly like to fancy that technological change has
never been so fast, the pace of life never so frantic. But as
early as 1853 Matthew Arnold identified “this strange
disease of modern life, with its sick hurry, its divided
aims.” In a story published in 1900 Henry James referred
to people of his generation as “victims of the modern
madness, more maniacal extension and motion.”

Every time you feel superior to the funny old ways of the
past, remember that the future will find you old-fashioned
too. In 2108 they will undoubtedly chuckle over the quaint
way people in 2008 got paper money (paper money!) out
of slot machines set into walls. Cellphones will seem as
clunkily antiquated to them as, say, wind-up phonographs
do to us.

Look back harder. What we call history is noise; is the
signature on the piece of paper as opposed to the paper; is
not the window but the stone smashing through it.

History is broken windows.

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