longing

In my art history classes in graduate school there was a generalization made by a famous historian, Erwin Panofsky:

When a society is out of balance and disorganized, art tends toward the abstract. When the society is balanced and stable, art tends toward naturalism.” — Studies in Iconology, Humanistic Themes in the Art

This idea seems like it expresses the relationship between people and technology as well; in times of stability technology closely matches our needs and behavior, and in these times of instability technology is increasingly abstract to those needs, and instead the Web and all these devices offer the vision of a perfect future of ease and connectedness (one that barely works, actually, on a good day). I feel it when the battery dies, the email goes unresponded-to, I forget my phone, etc.
The sense of longing for technical solutions to spiritual problems reaches an intense level in one of the more tortured reflection of technological capitalism: social networking Web sites like MySpace. Here, the lack of offline connectedness creates a new online connectedness (this time, it’s not hidden from parents or adults however, and thus the same dangers and brutality that have always come with young people hanging out together are there for everyone to see and be shocked by). The Web sites, the cell phones, the messaging services reflect the trouble that a large society and culture has in providing for the spiritual needs of people: they are a reflection of our collective frustrated desires, not the cause of them.
In the times that Panofsky was talking about (5c-16c Europe), the changes happened slowly. The Dark Ages lasted a long, long time, and whatever took their place lasted awhile too. Now, the world changes very fast and the cycles overlap, and there is no single relationship that pervades an entire society or culture. In this world, there are two basic choices: more connections (the Western vision of technology-fueled markets) or more ideology (the chosen group, the fundamentalists, the belief in burning ideas). We have to hope that ideology loses for all our sakes, but connectedness in its current form isn’t satisfying very well.
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