Future shock from the past

Future shock is a term coined in the 1960s, but the idea wasn’t new. The main difference was that in earlier periods when there was a perception of rapid change (certainly justified for the years between, say, 1860 and 1910), it was more often celebrated.

The Futurists’ reputation is tarnished by their later sympathy with Italian fascism, but they were good at nailing some things about the contemporary world in ways which sound interestingly familiar.


Futurism is grounded in the complete renewal of human sensibility brought about by the great discoveries of science. Those people who today make use of the telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph, the train, the bicycle, the motorcycle, the automobile, the ocean liner, the dirigible, the aeroplane, the cinema, the great newspaper (synthesis of a day in the world’s life) do not realize that these various means of communication, transportation and information have a decisive influence on their psyches.

An ordinary man can in a day’s time travel by train from a little dead town of empty squares, where the sun, the dust, and the wind amuse themselves in silence, to a great capital city bristling with lights, gestures, and street cries. By reading a newspaper the inhabitant of a mountain village can tremble each day with anxiety, following insurrection in China, the London and New York suffragettes, Doctor Carrel, and the heroic dog-sleds of the polar explorers. The timid, sedentary inhabitant of any provincial town can indulge in the intoxication of danger by going to the movies and watching a great hunt in the Congo. He can admire Japanese athletes, Negro boxers, tireless American eccentrics, the most elegant Parisian women, by paying a franc to go to the variety theater. Then, back in his bourgeois bed, he can enjoy the distant, expensive voice of a Caruso or a Burzio.

This is part of the preamble to Marinetti’s essay on The Futurist Sensibility. The date? 1913.

You can read the whole thing here

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