Magic lantern

Around four hundred years ago, when people first saw the magic lantern, I’ll bet they thought “Wow, we are now in modern times!” That’s probably been the way it has felt with every new kind of communication technology.

When the first telegraph messages made their way across the Atlantic, the first silent movies, the first broadcast TV show. And in more recent times, UseNet, then surfing the Web for the very first time with Mosaic, then eventually all the things you can do on your iPhone.

At each step the feeling has been “Wow, we are now in modern times!” And yet that is exactly the feeling we try to avoid in research.

Our job is to constantly remind ourselves that we are not, in fact, the ne plus ultra of modernity. Instead, we need to think about what might be coming next, and how we can help to make that happen.

Ultimately, I think that’s a more exciting way to think about things. Instead of saying “Wow, we have movies now!” it’s more useful to say “We are in the age of silent movies, and talkies are coming.”

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