There's a funny thing about the fusion of technology and culture. It has been a part of human experience since that first cave painter, but we've had a hard time seeing it until now. When James Joyce published Ulysses in 1922 and revolutionized all of our expectations about how books should work, was he so different from Gutenberg himself? You couldn't see it at the time, but Joyce was a highly skilled technician, tinkering around with a book-machine, making it do things it had never done before. His contemporaries saw him as an artist (or a pornographer, depending on who you talked to), but from our vantage point, he could just as easily be a programmer, writing code for the printing press platform. Joyce wrote software for hardware originally conjured up by Gutenberg.... Both innovations came from startling imaginative leaps, and both changed the way we look at the world. Gutenberg built a machine that Joyce souped up with some innovative programming, and Joyce hollered out a variation on a theme originally penned by Gutenberg himself. They were both artists. They were both engineers. Only the four hundred years that separated them kept their shared condition from view.

Steven Johnson,
Interface Culture (HarperEdge, 1997)

Next passage

Back to "God, Man, and the Interface." | Back to Atlantic Unbound