The Vertigo Years 2000-2014

In The Vertigo Years, Europe, 1900-1914, the Viennese historian Philipp Blom does a quite brilliant job describing the impact of cultural and technological change at the beginning of the 20th century. Blom focuses on the way in which the urban, industrial revolution altered the identity of turn of the century European men and women. Blom quotes Virginia Woolf who once said that "in and around December 1910 human character changed." And the central point of this amazing book is that human nature was fundamentally transformed by the invention of cinema, the camera, the newspaper and the other technologies of mass media.

Somebody needs to write The Vertigo Years, The World, 2000-2014. It's a natural sequel. All the social and cultural phenomena that Blom describes -- "the cult of the fast machine" (gasoline powered car), "People's Palaces" (movie theaters) etc etc -- is now being radically transformed, for better or worse, by the digital revolution. Just as the period between 1900 and 1914, shaped the rest of the 20th century, so what is happening now in media, culture and technology will caste a long shadow over the rest of the 21th century.

So what, exactly, will happen next? One clue: in 1914, there was a war to end all wars, the most destructive conflict in human history. If we are to believe the digital jihadis (Jarvis et al) we are on the verge of everlasting paradise -- a customer-centric century.  But I'm not so sure. Rather than liberating us from the old structures of power, this new technology is actually unmooring us from our traditional communities and identities. Just as in beginning of the 20th century, new technologies and media are making most of us increasingly anxious and isolated. We are back, I'm afraid, in the Vertigo Years. I just hope they end in a less bloody climax than they did a hundred years ago.