John Thornhill notes that “it is the conceit of almost every generation
to believe that they live in transformational times” (“ Miracle or monster?”, FT Life & Arts, May 12/13).
Agreed. Anyone, at any point in history, could produce reasons, arguments and statistics to support the idea that the changes they were experiencing were bigger, faster and more sweeping than ever before.
In 1875, Irish asylum doctor James Foulis Duncan warned in the Journal of Mental Science that “a striking feature of the present age is that it is one of incessant mental activity. All is hurry, bustle, and excitement”.
Previously, people “did not hatch eggs by steam, or make calculations by a machine”. Duncan concluded that there was “an amount of brain work going on in the present age far different in kind from, and far greater in degree than, any that was ever known before”.
But, he added, “it must not be forgotten that the evil complained of arises, not from mechanical contrivances in the abstract, but from the abuses connected with their working and incidental to their introduction”.
Mr Thornhill agrees: “No matter how fast the science progresses, it remains a question of societal choice about how widely and quickly technology is deployed.” Bernard Levin aired a similar sentiment 40 years ago in The Times: “The silicon chip will transform everything, except everything that matters, and the rest will still be up to us.”
Professor Brendan Kelly
Department of Psychiatry,
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland