Our Digital Civilization

New technology has always propelled humans forward. Often, we are afraid of it. Take the invention of the steam train. When the Stockton to Darlington Railway, the first public steam railway, opened in 1825, people feared the worst: the human body wasn't designed to travel at the astonishing speed of 30 miles per hour and something dreadful would happen if it did (Britannica 2019). With the invention of the telephone, preachers in Sweden said the phone was an instrument of the devil (Ehrenkrona n.d.), causing phone lines to be stolen or sabotaged; others feared that telephone lines were channels through which evil spirits would enter our homes.

In his classic 1960s book, Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan accurately predicted the rise of mass media and the ‘global village.’ He described how ‘The essence of automation technology … is integral and decentralist in depth, just as the machine was fragmentary, centralist and superficial in its patterning of human relationships’ (McLuhan 1964: 1).

Whilst McLuhan popularized this concept, he was not the first to think of it. Inventor Nicholas Tesla in an interview with Colliers magazine in 1926 stated:

When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and ...

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