You may be familiar with the idea of the Technological Singularity - the prediction made by notable futurists that technological change will grow exponentially and transform us into unrecognizable, Transhuman, then Posthuman entities. I09 is reporting that there is a backlash against the idea that the information explosion will strip us of our humanity in the future. More and more, Gen X commentators are contradicting Boomer's iconoclastic, ironic, Postmodern and revolutionary attitudes toward history.
The Neverwas Haul. Appeared at 2006's Burning Man and the 2007 Maker Faire. Created by Bay Area artists.
According to IO9, late Boomer, Generation Jones and Gen X writers are looking to the past to preserve our traditions and history, while moving forward:
"[W]e're starting to see the bleeding edges of a backlash against this kind of 'everybody disappears' singularity where the human future is unimaginably awesome. Partly this backlash is coming from history-obsessed authors like Jo Walton and Robert Charles Wilson. Wilson's novel Julian Comstock imagines a 22nd century United States sapped of its energy resources and returned to 19th Century levels of technology. But this trend is also coming from post-apocalyptic TV series like Jericho and the upcoming Day One, where people must learn to live without their Moore's Law-driven technologies. Steampunk is another major anti-singularity subgenre. In steampunk, the future looks like the 19th Century (or vice versa). Humans can't get bio-rejiggered, souped-up, and uploaded into the incomprehensible noosphere: Instead, they've gone back in time to an easily-recognizable age."Will we transform into unrecognizable creatures thanks to the exponential rise of technological growth? Perhaps. But thanks to Gen X's commitment to tradition and history, perhaps we will still remember our origins, retain our humanity and preserve our sanity. In this fin de siècle, Xers are reviving the last turn of the century, loosely defined in a long span from 1870 to 1935. Steampunk has been a Gen X subculture for some time. It grew out of Cyberpunk in the 1980s and 1990s, but possesses an even stronger streak of Romanticism than Cyberpunk. It reflects Gothic and Pre-Raphaelite styles that are deeply entrenched in Gen X thinking - the Lord of the Rings films were a Gen X-styled Pre-Raphaelite revival of Tolkien's fantastic version of Prehistory (see my blog entry on Tolkien and Prehistory here.
These trends suggest that Boomers and Gen Xers really do think differently about the impact of technology on culture. Gen X is now proccupied with salvaging historical artifacts and aesthetics that are rapidly being obliterated.
For the first time, Steampunk is starting to attract serious scholarly interest. Earlier this year, the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University held the world's first international Steampunk exhibition. A link to the official exhibition site is here.
The ElectriClerk. Andrew Leman's fully functional computer is inspired by the retro-futuristic machinery in Terry Gilliam's Brazil.
The award-winning Australian Steampunk film from 2005, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, is described on youtube as follows:
"Nominated for an Oscar and for a BAFTA award, Jasper Morello is a short feature made in a unique style of silhouette animation developed by director Anthony Lucas and inspired by the work of authors Edgar Alan Poe and Jules Verne. In the frontier city of Carpathia, Jasper Morello discovers that his former adversary Doctor Claude Belgon has returned from the grave. When Claude reveals that he knows the location of the ancient city of Alto Mea where the secrets of life have been discovered, Jasper cannot resist the temptation to bring his own dead wife Amelia back. But they are captured by Armand Forgette, leader of the radical Horizontalist anti-technology movement, who is determined to reanimate his terrorist father Vasco. As lightning energises the arcane machineries of life in the floating castle of Alto Mea, Jasper must choose between having his beloved restored or seeing the government of Gothia destroyed. Set in a world of iron dirigibles and steam powered computers, this gothic horror mystery tells the story of Jasper Morello, a disgraced aerial navigator who flees his Plague-ridden home on a desperate voyage to redeem himself.
Also winner of the Grand Prix award at the Annecy Animation Festival, Jasper has also won the top honours at the Canadian Film Centre's Worldwide Short Film Festival, Best Animation at Flickerfest 2005, Best Animation at the Sydney Film Festival Dendy awards and Best Animation at Toronto worldwide shorts."
Steampunk animated film. The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005).
For some Steampunk cultural trips to the past, see the literary journal Steampunk Magazine. Check out the site of the annual World Steam Expo. For a list of Steampunk comics, go here. The blog, Steampunk Fashion, has a recent piece contrasting Post-Post-Apocalyptic sensibilities and Steampunk attitudes. For DJ Fact.50's sampler of Steampunk music, A Steampunk/Neo-Victorian Old World Mix, go here.
Steampunk is only one of many historical revivals which Gen Xers are currently developing to help us cope with the cultural and psychological strain of technological growth. There is a collection of articles on Gen-X-driven Retro-Futurism at Boing Boing here.
Boomers see this as a puzzling sign of widespread generational conservatism on the part of their successors. More precisely, Xers embrace innovation, tempered with the awareness that the Boomers' radical destruction of everything that defined us in the past will not enable us to function in the future.
Over at The Aquaman Shrine, there's a post about a Steampunk Aquaman figure. These quaint and quirky Gen X tastes might be our millennial saving grace in an alien, perpetual motion, pristine future of cloning, immortality, human growth hormone injections and Quantum Biological cerebral uploads that are the preserves of Boomer optimism.
See all my posts with Generation X themes.