Nobody uses the word computerized anymore. Its disappearance owes not to the end of computerization itself, but to the process’ near-completeness. Now that we all walk around with computers in our pockets (see also the fate of the word portable), we expect every aspect of life to involve computers in one way or another. But in 1967, the very idea of computers got people dreaming of the far-flung future, not least because most of them had never been near one, let alone brought one into their home. But for the Shore family, each and every phase of the day involves a computer: their “central home computer, which is secretary, librarian, banker, teacher, medical technician, bridge partner, and all-around servant in this house of tomorrow.”
In 1979, when Sony introduced the Walkman—a 14-ounce cassette player, blue and silver with buttons that made a satisfying chunk when pushed—even the engineers inside Sony weren’t impressed. It wasn’t particularly innovative; cassette players already existed, and so did headphones. Plus, the Walkman could only play back—it couldn’t record. Who was going to want a device like that?
Once upon a time, questions about the use-value of art were the height of philistinism. “All art is quite useless,” wrote the aesthete Oscar Wilde, presaging the attitudes of modernists to come. Explaining this statement in a letter to a perplexed fan, Wilde opined that art “is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way.” But if you ask Alain de Botton, founder of “cultural enterprise,” The School of Life, art—or literature specifically—does indeed have a practical purpose. Four to be precise.
Bigger data gets the bigger picture . . . in this case, the big picture in the form of an amazing visualization of global cultural evolution. In Europe. Things move slowly at the beginning, when the only stars and centers of cultural gravity are Athens and Rome. Watch Europe flicker through the “dark” ages until the Renaissance lights up the map. Of course, things really get going in the nineteen hundreds with the industrial revolution.