Essays, Analyses and Meditations

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The Opaque Civilization

  • The first tools were easy to understand: its function was in the structure.
  • The first services were also easy to understand: for example, mail was delivered by someone running or riding a horse and carrying a message for you.
  • The turntable was still a tool in which the structure revealed the functioning: you had to turn the handle to make it play sound and you could see the record spinning, a needle touching the grooves and a horn amplifying the sound.
  • The camera, on the other hand, was already inscrutable: images appear on a piece of paper out of the blue, as if by miracle.
  • Television was even more "magic": you press a button and you see someone who is not physically present in the room.
  • Email delivery is also magic: there is no courier, there is no paper.
  • Tools are increasingly inscrutable. Society is increasingly opaque.
  • Most of nature is actually opaque. There are many natural phenomena that seem to happen "by magic". Think of lightning or of pregnancy or of the day/night cycle. For thousands of years people lived without knowing why ordinary things happened.
  • The human body itself is opaque: we don't see how the various organs keep us alive, we just wake up every day and go about our business.
  • Technological progress is making society opaque too. The human mind that was used to at least grasp the workings of its own tools is increasingly unable to explain how its tools do what they do. The human mind is adapting to an opaque world, moving about it as if blindfolded.