A Technoculture Dossier
Trajectories of Representation and Discourse

Martin Irvine
Georgetown University

Jump to Authors/Texts:
Henry Adams | Henry David Thoreau | Walt Whitman | Mary Shelley | Karl Marx | Freud

From Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1900),
From chap. XXV: "The Dynamo and the Virgin"

See the homepage for this etext edition and full text of chapter at UVA.
Notes: "dynamo" = electric power generator. Adams's reflections on new electric power and machine technology in the "Gallery of Machines" at the "Universal Exposition" in Paris (1900). Adams writes his autobiography in third person.

Until the Great Exposition closed its doors in November, Adams haunted it, aching to absorb knowledge, and helpless to find it. He would have liked to know how much of it could have been grasped by the best-informed man in the world.
...
[Then] he [Adam's friend Langley] taught Adams the astonishing complexities of the new Daimler, and of the automobile, which, since 1893, had become a nightmare at a hundred kilometres an hour, almost as destructive as the electric tram which was only ten years older; and threatening to become as terrible as the locomotive steam-engine itself, which was almost exactly Adams's own age.

Then he showed his scholar the great hall of dynamos, and explained how little he knew about electricity or force of any kind, even of his own special sun, which spouted heat in inconceivable volume, but which, as far as he knew, might spout less or more, at any time, for all the certainty he felt in it. To him [Adams], the dynamo itself was but an ingenious channel for conveying somewhere the heat latent in a few tons of poor coal hidden in a dirty engine-house carefully kept out of sight; but to Adams the dynamo became a symbol of infinity. As he grew accustomed to the great gallery of machines, he began to feel the forty-foot dynamos as a moral force, much as the early Christians felt the Cross. The planet itself seemed less impressive, in its old-fashioned, deliberate, annual or daily revolution, than this huge wheel, revolving within arm's length at some vertiginous speed, and barely murmuring -- scarcely humming an audible warning to stand a hair's-breadth further for respect of power -- while it would not wake the baby lying close against its frame. Before the end, one began to pray to it; inherited instinct taught the natural expression of man before silent and infinite force. Among the thousand symbols of ultimate energy the dynamo was not so human as some, but it was the most expressive.

Yet the dynamo, next to the steam-engine, was the most familiar of exhibits. For Adams's objects its value lay chiefly in its occult mechanism. Between the dynamo in the gallery of machines and the engine-house outside, the break of continuity amounted to abysmal fracture for a historian's objects. No more relation could he discover between the steam and the electric current than between the Cross and the cathedral. The forces were interchangeable if not reversible, but he could see only an absolute fiat in electricity as in faith.

Historians undertake to arrange sequences, -- called stories, or histories -- assuming in silence a relation of cause and effect.... Satisfied that the sequence of men led to nothing and that the sequence of their society could lead no further, while the mere sequence of time was artificial, and the sequence of thought was chaos, he turned at last to the sequence of force; and thus it happened that, after ten years' pursuit, he found himself lying in the Gallery of Machines at the Great Exposition of 1900, his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new.

Walt Whitman: Democratic Industrial Utopia and Urban Sublime
Selections from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1876 edition)

(Online editions from the Whitman Archive)

From "Starting from Paumanok"

18

See, steamers steaming through my poems,
See, in my poems immigrants continually coming and
     landing,
See, in arriere, the wigwam, the trail, the hunter's hut, the
     flatboat, the maize-leaf, the claim, the rude fence, and
     the backwoods village,
See, on the one side the Western Sea and on the other the
     Eastern Sea, how they advance and retreat upon my
     poems as upon their own shores,
See, pastures and forests in my poems-- see, animals wild and
     tame-- see, beyond the Kaw, countless herds of buffalo
     feeding on short curly grass,
See, in my poems, cities, solid, vast, inland, with paved
     streets, with iron and stone edifices, ceaseless vehicles,
     and commerce,
See, the many-cylinder'd steam printing-press-- see, the
     electric telegraph stretching across the continent,
See, through Atlantica's depths pulses American Europe
     reaching, pulses of Europe duly return'd,
See, the strong and quick locomotive as it departs, panting,
     blowing the steam-whistle,
See, ploughmen ploughing farms-- see, miners digging mines
    -- see, the numberless factories,

See, mechanics busy at their benches with tools-- see from
     among them superior judges, philosophs, Presidents,
     emerge, drest in working dresses,
See, lounging through the shops and fields of the States, me
    well-belov'd, close-held by day and night,
Hear the loud echoes of my songs there-- read the hints come
     at last.
....

From "A Song for Occupations"

                                    1

A SONG for occupations!
In the labor of engines and trades and the labor of fields
     I find the developments,
And find the eternal meanings.

Workmen and Workwomen!
Were all educations practical and ornamental well display'd
     out of me, what would it amount to?
Were I as the head teacher, charitable proprietor, wise
     statesman, what would it amount to?
Were I to you as the boss employing and paying you, would
     that satisfy you?
....

                                  5

Will the whole come back then?
Can each see signs of the best by a look in the looking-glass?
     is there nothing greater or more?
Does all sit there with you, with the mystic unseen soul?

Strange and hard that paradox true I give,
Objects gross and the unseen soul are one.

House-building, measuring, sawing the boards,
Blacksmithing, glass-blowing, nail-making, coopering,
     tin-roofing, shingle-dressing,
Ship-joining, dock-building, fish-curing, flagging of sidewalks
     by flaggers,
The pump, the pile-driver, the great derrick, the coal-kiln
     and brick-kiln,
Coal-mines and all that is down there, the lamps in the darkness,
     echoes, songs, what meditations, what vast native thoughts
     looking through smutch'd faces,
Iron-works, forge-fires in the mountains or by river-banks, men
     around feeling the melt with huge crowbars, lumps of ore,
     the due combining of ore, limestone, coal,
The blast-furnace and the puddling-furnace, the loup-lump at the
     bottom of the melt at last, the rolling-mill, the stumpy bars
     of pig-iron, the strong, clean-shaped T-rail for railroads,
Oil-works, silk-works, white-lead-works, the sugar-house,
     steam-saws, the great mills and factories,
Stone-cutting, shapely trimmings for façades or window or
     door-lintels, the mallet, the tooth-chisel, the jib to protect
     the thumb,
The calking-iron, the kettle of boiling vault-cement, and the
     fire under the kettle,

The cotton-bale, the stevedore's hook, the saw and buck of the
     sawyer, the mould of the moulder, the working-knife of the
     butcher, the ice-saw, and all the work with ice,
The work and tools of the rigger, grappler, sail-maker, block-
     maker,
Goods of gutta-percha, papier-maché, colors, brushes, brush-
    making, glazier's implements,
The veneer and glue-pot, the confectioner's ornaments, the
     decanter and glasses, the shears and flat-iron,
The awl and knee-strap, the pint measure and quart measure,
     the counter and stool, the writing-pen of quill or metal, the
     making of all sorts of edged tools,
The brewery, brewing, the malt, the vats, everything that is
     done by brewers, wine-makers, vinegar-makers,
Leather-dressing, coach-making, boiler-making, rope-twisting,
     distilling, sign-painting, lime-burning, cotton-picking, electro-
    plating, electrotyping, stereotyping,
Stave-machines, planing-machines, reaping-machines,
     ploughing-machines, thrashing-machines, steam wagons,
The cart of the carman, the omnibus, the ponderous dray,
Pyrotechny, letting off color'd fireworks at night, fancy figures
     and jets;
Beef on the butcher's stall, the slaughter-house of the butcher,
     the butcher in his killing-clothes,
The pens of live pork, the killing-hammer, the hog-hook, the
     scalder's tub, gutting, the cutter's cleaver, the packer's
     maul, and the plenteous winterwork of pork-packing,
Flour-works, grinding of wheat, rye, maize, rice, the barrels
     and the half and quarter barrels, the loaded barges, the
     high piles on wharves and levees,
The men and the work of the men on ferries, railroad,
     coasters, fish-boats, canals;
The hourly routine of your own or any man's life, the shop,
     yard, store, or factory,
These shows all near you by day and night--workman!
     whoever you are, your daily life!
In that and them the heft of the heaviest--in that and
     them far more than you estimated, (and far less also,)
In them realities for you and me, in them poems for you and me,

In them, not yourself--you and your soul enclose all things,
     regardless of estimation,
In them the development good--in them all themes, hints,
     possibilities.
I do not affirm that what you see beyond is futile, I do not advise
     you to stop,
I do not say leadings you thought great are not great,
But I say that none lead to greater than these lead to.
 

From "I Sing the Body Electric"

                                         1

I SING the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of
     the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies
     conceal themselves?

And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile
     the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
....

"To a Locomotive in Winter"

THEE for my recitative,
Thee in the driving storm even as now, the snow,
     the winterday declining,
Thee in thy panoply, thy measur'd dual throbbing
     and thy beat convulsive,
Thy black cylindric body, golden brass and
     silvery steel,
Thy ponderous side-bars, parallel and connecting
     rods, gyrating, shuttling at thy sides,
Thy metrical, now swelling pant and roar, now
     tapering in the distance,
Thy great protruding head-light fix'd in front,
Thy long, pale, floating vapor-pennants, tinged
     with delicate purple,
The dense and murky clouds out-belching from thy
     smoke-stack,
Thy knitted frame, thy springs and valves, the
     tremulous twinkle of thy wheels,
Thy train of cars behind, obedient, merrily following,
 
Through gale or calm, now swift, now slack, yet
     steadily careering;
Type of the modern--emblem of motion and
     power--pulse of the continent,
For once come serve the Muse and merge in verse,
     even as here I see thee,
With storm and buffeting gusts of wind and falling
     snow,
By day thy warning ringing bell to sound its notes,
By night thy silent signal lamps to swing.

Fierce-throated beauty!
Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music, thy
     swinging lamps at night,
Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling like
     an earthquake, rousing all,
Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly
     holding,
(No sweetness debonair of tearful harp or glib
     piano thine,)
Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills return'd,
Launch'd o'er the prairies wide, across the lakes,
To the free skies unpent and glad and strong.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)
From Chap. IV: Sounds

[View complete etext from the University of Virginia Etext Center and ebook at Project Gutenberg]

As I sit at my window this summer afternoon, hawks are circling about my clearing; the tantivy of wild pigeons, flying by two and threes athwart my view, or perching restless on the white pine boughs behind my house, gives a voice to the air; a fish hawk dimples the glassy surface of the pond and brings up a fish; a mink steals out of the marsh before my door and seizes a frog by the shore; the sedge is bending under the weight of the reed-birds flitting hither and thither; and for the last half-hour I have heard the rattle of railroad cars, now dying away and then reviving like the beat of a partridge, conveying travellers from Boston to the country. For I did not live so out of the world as that boy who, as I hear, was put out to a farmer in the east part of the town, but ere long ran away and came home again, quite down at the heel and homesick. He had never seen such a dull and out-of-the-way place; the folks were all gone off; why, you couldn't even hear the whistle! I doubt if there is such a place in Massachusetts now:

"In truth, our village has become a butt
For one of those fleet railroad shafts, and o'er
Our peaceful plain its soothing sound is-- Concord."

The Fitchburg Railroad touches the pond about a hundred rods south of where I dwell. I usually go to the village along its causeway, and am, as it were, related to society by this link. The men on the freight trains, who go over the whole length of the road, bow to me as to an old acquaintance, they pass me so often, and apparently they take me for an employee; and so I am. I too would fain be a track-repairer somewhere in the orbit of the earth.

The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer's yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other side. As they come under one horizon, they shout their warning to get off the track to the other, heard sometimes through the circles of two towns. Here come your groceries, country; your rations, countrymen! Nor is there any man so independent on his farm that he can say them nay. And here's your pay for them! screams the countryman's whistle; timber like long battering-rams going twenty miles an hour against the city's walls, and chairs enough to seat all the weary and heavy-laden that dwell within them. With such huge and lumbering civility the country hands a chair to the city. All the Indian huckleberry hills are stripped, all the cranberry meadows are raked into the city. Up comes the cotton, down goes the woven cloth; up comes the silk, down goes the woollen; up come the books, but down goes the wit that writes them.

When I meet the engine with its train of cars moving off with planetary motion- or, rather, like a comet, for the beholder knows not if with that velocity and with that direction it will ever revisit this system, since its orbit does not look like a returning curve- with its steam cloud like a banner streaming behind in golden and silver wreaths, like many a downy cloud which I have seen, high in the heavens, unfolding its masses to the light- as if this traveling demigod, this cloud- compeller, would ere long take the sunset sky for the livery of his train; when I hear the iron horse make the bills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils (what kind of winged horse or fiery dragon they will put into the new Mythology I don't know), it seems as if the earth had got a race now worthy to inhabit it. If all were as it seems, and men made the elements their servants for noble ends! If the cloud that hangs over the engine were the perspiration of heroic deeds, or as beneficent as that which floats over the farmer's fields, then the elements and Nature herself would cheerfully accompany men on their errands and be their escort.

I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular. Their train of clouds stretching far behind and rising higher and higher, going to heaven while the cars are going to Boston, conceals the sun for a minute and casts my distant field into the shade, a celestial train beside which the petty train of cars which bugs the earth is but the barb of the spear. The stabler of the iron horse was up early this winter morning by the light of the stars amid the mountains, to fodder and harness his steed. Fire, too, was awakened thus early to put the vital beat in him and get him off. If the enterprise were as innocent as it is early! If the snow lies deep, they strap on his snowshoes, and, with the giant plow, plow a furrow from the mountains to the seaboard, in which the cars, like a following drill-barrow, sprinkle all the restless men and floating merchandise in the country for seed. All day the fire-steed flies over the country, stopping only that his master may rest, and I am awakened by his tramp and defiant snort at midnight, when in some remote glen in the woods he fronts the elements incased in ice and snow; and he will reach his stall only with the morning star, to start once more on his travels without rest or slumber. Or perchance, at evening, I hear him in his stable blowing off the superfluous energy of the day, that he may calm his nerves and cool his liver and brain for a few hours of iron slumber. If the enterprise were as heroic and commanding as it is protracted and unwearied!

Far through unfrequented woods on the confines of towns, where once only the hunter penetrated by day, in the darkest night dart these bright saloons without the knowledge of their inhabitants; this moment stopping at some brilliant station-house in town or city, where a social crowd is gathered, the next in the Dismal Swamp, scaring the owl and fox. The startings and arrivals of the cars are now the epochs in the village day. They go and come with such regularity and precision, and their whistle can be heard so far, that the farmers set their clocks by them, and thus one well-conducted institution regulates a whole country. Have not men improved somewhat in punctuality since the railroad was invented? Do they not talk and think faster in the depot than they did in the stage-office? There is something electrifying in the atmosphere of the former place. I have been astonished at the miracles it has wrought; that some of my neighbors, who, I should have prophesied, once for all, would never get to Boston by so prompt a conveyance, are on hand when the bell rings. To do things "railroad fashion" is now the byword; and it is worth the while to be warned so often and so sincerely by any power to get off its track. There is no stopping to read the riot act, no firing over the heads of the mob, in this case. We have constructed a fate, an Atropos, that never turns aside. (Let that be the name of your engine.) Men are advertised that at a certain hour and minute these bolts will be shot toward particular points of the compass; yet it interferes with no man's business, and the children go to school on the other track. We live the steadier for it. We are all educated thus to be sons of Tell. The air is full of invisible bolts. Every path but your own is the path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1816; published 1818): etext from the 1831 edition (at Project Gutenberg). Emphases added.
Electricity, Monsters, Technological Sexless Birth, the First Cyborg


From Mary Shelley's Preface

Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They talked of the experiments of  Dr. Darwin, (I speak not of what the Doctor really did, or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken of as having been done by him,) who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion. Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endured with vital warmth.

Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest. When I place my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw -- with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, -- I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse.
....

From Chapter 2

When I [Dr. Frankenstein] was about fifteen years old we had retired to our house near Belrive, when we witnessed a most violent and terrible thunderstorm. It advanced from behind the mountains of Jura, and the thunder burst at once with frightful loudness from various quarters of the heavens. I remained, while the storm lasted, watching its progress with curiosity and delight. As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed.

Before this I was not unacquainted with the more obvious laws of electricity. On this occasion a man of great research in natural philosophy was with us, and excited by this catastrophe, he entered on the explanation of a theory which he had formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism, which was at once new and astonishing to me. All that he said threw greatly into the shade Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and Paracelsus, the lords of my imagination; but by some fatality the overthrow of these men disinclined me to pursue my accustomed studies. It seemed to me as if nothing would or could ever be known. All that had so long engaged my attention suddenly grew despicable. By one of those caprices of the mind which we are perhaps most subject to in early youth, I at once gave up my former occupations, set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation, and entertained the greatest disdain for a would be science which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge.

From Chapter 5 [birth of the creature]

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infusea spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!--Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

Karl Marx, From The Communist Manifesto (1848)
Full Text (archived at marxists.org)

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?
....
In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.

Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of machinery, etc.

Capital, Vol. I, Chapter 15, is devoted to "Machinery and Modern Industry"
(archived at marxists.org)

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents (excerpts) (1929; English trans. 1931)

[Note: Freud was writing after WWI and reflecting on the consequences of an industrial and militarist "civilization" (Kultur in German; background) that requires repression and misery for its success. Many of his analyses seem as relevant today as then. Herbert Marcuse combined Marx and Freud in his post-WWII book, Eros and Civilization (1955). Some versions of dystopian representations of technology align advanced machines and computers with the repressive forces of "culture" over against "nature". Etexts of the book are available: 1 and 2.]

"How has it happened that so many people have come to take up this strange attitude of hostility to civilization? ... Civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual's dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city."

[W]e come across a point of view which is so amazing that we will pause over it. According to it, our so-called civilization itself is to blame for a great part of our misery, and we should be much happier if we were to give it up and go back to primitive conditions. I call this amazing because--however one may define culture--it is undeniable that every means by which we try to guard ourselves against menaces from the several sources of human distress is a part of this same culture.

How has it come about that so many people have adopted this strange attitude of hostility to civilization? In my opinion, it arose from a background of profound long-standing discontent with the existing state of civilization, which finally crystallized into this judgment as a result of certain historical happenings. I believe I can identify the last two of these; I am not learned enough to trace the links in the chain back into the history of the human species. At the time when Christianity conquered the pagan religions, some such antagonism to culture must already have been actively at work. It is closely related to the low estimation put upon earthly life by Christian doctrine. The earlier of the last two historical developments was when, as a result of voyages of discovery, men came into contact with primitive peoples and races. To the Europeans, who failed to observe them carefully and misunderstood what they saw, these people seemed to lead simple, happy lives—wanting for nothing —such as the travelers who visited them, with all their superior culture, were unable to achieve. Later experience has corrected this opinion on many points; in several instances the ease of life was due to the bounty of nature and the possibilities of ready satisfaction for the great human needs, but it was erroneously attributed to the absence of the complicated conditions of civilization. The last of the two historical events is especially familiar to us; it was when people began to understand the nature of the neuroses which threaten to undermine the modicum of happiness open to civilized man. It was found that men become neurotic because they cannot tolerate the degree of privation that society imposes on them in virtue of its cultural ideals, and it was supposed that a return to greater possibilities of happiness would ensue if these standards were abolished or greatly relaxed.

And there exists an element of disappointment, in addition. In the last generations, man has made extraordinary strides in knowledge of the natural sciences and technical application of them, and has established his dominion over nature in a way never before imagined. The details of this forward progress are universally known: it is unnecessary to enumerate them. Mankind is proud of its exploits and has a right to be. But men are beginning to perceive that all this newly-won power over space and time, this conquest of the forces of nature, this fulfillment of age-old longings, has not increased the amount of pleasure they can obtain in life, has not made them feel any happier. The valid conclusion from this is merely that power over nature is not the only condition of human happiness, just as it is not the only goal of civilization's efforts, and there is no ground for inferring that its technical progress is worthless from the standpoint of happiness.

It seems to be certain that our present-day civilization does not inspire in us a feeling of well-being, but it is very difficult to form an opinion whether in earlier times people felt any happier and what part their cultural conditions played in the question....

It is time that we should turn our attention to the nature of this culture, the value of which is so much disputed from the point of view of happiness. Until we have learnt something by examining it for ourselves, we will not look round for formulas which express its essence in a few words....By means of all his tools, man makes his own organs more perfect--both the motor and the sensory--or else removes the obstacles in the way of their activity. Machinery places gigantic power at his disposal which, like his muscles, he can employ in any direction; ships and aircraft have the effect that neither air nor water can prevent his traversing them. With spectacles he corrects the defects of the lens in his own eyes; with telescopes he looks at far distances; with the microscope he overcomes the limitations in visibility due to the structure of his retina. With the photographic camera he has created an instrument which registers transitory visual impressions, just as the gramophone does with equally transient auditory ones; both are at bottom materializations of his own power of memory. With the help of the telephone he can hear at distances which even fairy-tales would treat as insuperable; writing to begin with was the voice of the absent; dwellings were a substitute for the mother’’s womb, that first abode, in which he was safe and felt so content, for which he probably yearns ever after.
....
The fateful question of the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent the cultural process developed in it will succeed in mastering the derangements of communal life caused by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. In this connection, perhaps the phase through which we are at this moment passing deserves special interest. Men have brought their powers of subduing the forces of nature to such a pitch that by using them they could now very easily exterminate one another to the last man. They know this--hence arises a great part of their current unrest, their dejection, their mood of apprehension. And now it may be expected that the other of the two heavenly forces, eternal Eros, will put forth his strength so as to maintain himself alongside of his equally immortal adversary.