The End of the Two Cultures


Session Title:

  • Techno Cultures

Presentation Title:

  • The End of the Two Cultures



  • We live in the post-modern, post-communist, post-industrial world, a time that has been called the end of the historical era. We are past the first days of the information age with its whirring mainframes and images of massive data unreachable and unintelligible to the denizens of popular culture. Ours is the third generation of the information age. The culture is forming anew — old para-digms no longer apply. Ones that were significant a generation ago no longer hold. Our moment is no longer governed by paradigms from the 1950s. Our moment SIGGRAPH 93, USA is the end of the two cultures.

    In his 1959 Rede lecture at Cambridge, C.P Snow described his milieu: “There have been plenty of days when I have spent the working hours with scientists and then gone off at night with some literary colleagues. I mean that literally. I have had, of course, intimate friends among both scientists and writers. It was through living among these groups and much more, I think, through moving regularly from one to the other and back again that I got occupied with the problem of what, long before I put it on paper, I christened to myself as the two cultures’.” His concerns in the lecture were: education, international competitiveness, the success of the Soviet Union, institutional barriers to success, how to improve the future, emerging Japanese economic competition … what to do at the end of the empire? He saw the artificial divisions in society, separated Art from Science and the Applied from either creating a sure recipe for disaster.

    Two generations have passed. The rate of change seems to have increased dramatically. Computers are causing all kinds of trouble for the old paradigm and system. Industrial society is near collapse because it is unable to understand-digital scrutiny. Must we still abide by remnants of the high point of the industrial revolution — the division of the two cultures? For many reasons we should not. Personal computers have become a part of the mass culture without any formal government encour-agement. During the past 30 years their influence has become enormous. Children know that the machines they use for games are really computers and they do not need keyboards to control them, they use gloves, floormats, goggles, tiny hand-held controls, their voices. They live in a world where computers are ubiquitous.

    Scientists are able to acquire results across networks. They discuss theories and debate significant events from their homes. The pure and the applied no longer have clear boundaries. Symposia and conferences are offered where the topics include discussions of the aesthetics of scientific visualisation. Artists again use technology commonly, with a renewed emphasis on the message, not the medium, writing programs communicating via electronic salons, speaking of teraflops or data or imagebases. The world has changed. The old metaphor of technology was the broadcast. It has been replaced with the login. Today the more digitally educated (digerati?) build their own idiosyncratic worlds with many more choices than Snow’s two cultures.