Victorian Technology

Marta Figlerowicz at Public Books:

In the late 19th century—as in the early 21st century—ordinary people were swept up in the new craze of portrait photography. “Our loathsome society rushed, like Narcissus,” writes Charles Baudelaire, “to contemplate its trivial image on a metallic plate.” It’s easy to laugh at this sentence, both at how familiar and how distant it sounds today. Baudelaire’s disgust does echo our contemporary gripes about iPhones and selfie sticks. And yet, it does so in a loftier, more genteel idiom. Baudelaire’s unintended proto-image of the smartphone (as a steampunk “metallic plate”) carries Romantic force. The quotation—like, perhaps, the selfie itself—seems to capture a crucial, undefinable moment: the split second of our loss of technological innocence.

more here.