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Knowing Your Era

It would be nice to know.

It would be nice to get some warning from the historians. Is this a New Dark Ages, an Age of Capitalist Expansion? The Golden Age, or the beginning of the end? Just the name, and I'd know how to act, what to write.

If it's a golden age, then it's time for poetry and science, time to dig up metaphors that with the soul as tenor and the computer as tenor. If it's an age of empire, then we should pay particular attention to our Caesars; it's their story, and their generals' story. In the dark ages you should aim to preserve what is left of the past worth keeping, and hold on for better times; during enlightenments and renaissances, you should make it new.

Perhaps it's the bare start of the Information Age, and we're just getting started with computers, but then, the Information Age could also be just about to end as some radically unexpected technology pops in and makes all of our sorting and structuring problems go away; suddenly the spreadsheets are completed for us, and our brains are given over to a different set of symbols, our fingers typing in air.

We can count on being remembered—the turning of the Millennium gives the age a definite hook. There was nothing distinctive about AD1000, but there it is, with all the zeroes, a good place to measure progress: the Khazars defeated, the Mayas just collapsed, Vikings on their way to Vinland, the Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox half a century away from their split, and 66 years before the battle of Hastings. Our film, music, software will all be millennial: primitive ears, primitive eyes, just finding our foothold. Most of it erased, or if not erased then sorting, indexing, and collated into oblivion, available but ignored in the great piles of sitcoms, emails, MP3s and MIDI files.

Most of it will be forgotten, and they'll be wondering what to call their own age, ours long since folded up and forgotten, everything living today dead and composted (save for a few kinds of trees). They have my answer, sitting in their warm rooms with their brains filled with circuits. It would be nice to know, so that I might plan accordingly.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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