Friday, March 15, 2013

On Defining Modernity


On Defining Modernity: How does one define the term modernity? And when did it arrive? Many Western historians point to the Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648), which resulted in a significant decline of the Catholic Church's influence over European political affairs, as the birth of modernity. But other intellectuals tend to emphasize certain technologies that emerged from industrialization. Perhaps the two most important ones were electricity and railroads. With electricity, the routines of daily life (which usually followed the Sun's rhythms), changed drastically. In fact, Edison's 1879 carbon filament light bulb, while providing over 1200 hours of light, helped people work through the night without the use of fire. Regarding railroads, Aldous Huxley wrote, "To us, the moment 8:17 AM means something - something very important, if it happens to be the starting time of our daily train. To our ancestors, such an odd eccentric instant was without significance - did not even exist. In inventing the locomotive, [James] Watt and [George] Stephenson were part inventors of time." And as steam locomotives approached speeds of 70 MPH by the end of the 1800s, people began to experience the sensation of speed for the first time in history. At bottom, modernity is all about the annihilation of time and space.

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