Software Makes People Obsolete
I got this idea from William Carlos Williams’ poem The Rose is Obsolete, which you can read here, and hear a mini-lecture it about here. The parallel in painting is Nude Descending a Staircase, which caused a sensation when it was exhibited in 1932. I thought it had been lost, but it is now on permanent display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art – in case you are ever out that way.
What were Williams, and all the many artists like him, saying? This explanation would take volumes, and I can only hint at it here. They were saying that the symbols of our society, such as the rose and the nude, are obsolete. And we have become obsolete too because our creations, our technologies, have swallowed us up, or absorbed us, and become more important than we are.
All we can do now is serve them – or, as artists, describe the strange world and the strange beings we have become.
Bruno Latour puts this a little differently – the border between humans and non-humans has been breached, and cannot be repaired. Humpty-Dumpty (the symbol for our rich, satisfied self) has fallen from his wall.
I continue to study software development – because I feel it is somehow related to human development. One thing software does is model the human condition. But this model is fast becoming more important than the thing being modeled – us!
The industrial era, which created the population boom of mass man, is drawing to a close. In the post-industrial world we will be serving a new master – the computer.
Society is reorganizing itself along inhuman lines (a process that began in the 20th Century) and getting rid of its surplus population.
It’s not going to be a pretty picture.