The author of the first quotation is that social progressive paragon Henry Ford (irony impaired technobooster ignoramuses lurking hereabouts, please insert smiley with emphatically gasping mouth here), from his memoir My Philosophy of Industry, published in 1929:
"Machinery is accomplishing in the world what man has failed to do by preaching, propaganda, or the written word. The aeroplane and wireless know no boundary. They pass over the dotted lines on the map without heed or hindrance. They are binding the world together in a way no other system can. The motion picture with its universal language, the aeroplane with its speed, and the wireless with its coming international programme -- these will soon bring the world to a complete understanding. Thus may we vision a United States of the World. Ultimately it will surely come!"
Notice here, Superlative Technoboosters, first the evocation of the figure of the preacher now secularized through technoscience, second the conjuration of the transcension of all limits, third the facile misconstrual of the parochial with the universal, fourth the easy transition from an overassured predictive judgment of "soon" to the messianic cadences of "Ultimately it will surely come!" These dance steps are by now as dusty and dull and routinized as a stiff minuet, but it pays to be reminded that they have been dull an awfully long time by now -- ever heard of Jacques de Vaucanson, you triumphalist Singularitarians and scientistic reductionists? Hence, in reaction to such tired rhetoric George Orwell is quoted from a 1944 column:
"Reading recently a batch of rather shallowly optimistic 'progressive' books, I was struck by the automatic way people go on repeating certain phrases which were fashionable before 1914. Two great favourites are the 'abolition of distance' and the 'disappearance of frontiers'. I do not know how often I have met with statements that 'the aeroplane and the radio have abolished distance' and 'all parts of the world are now interdependent'.
This is an especially enjoyable quote to unearth since I recently had a set of exchanges with would-be Singularitarian guru Eliezer Yudkowsky in which he rather hilariously seemed to imagine himself a latter-day avatar of Orwell (except, you know, as an authoritarian High Priest awaiting the arrival of the Robot God). This leads me, by way of conclusion, to a reminder of why I devote so much attention to the marginal and curious sub(cult)ural futurisms of transhumanism, singularitarianism, extropianism, techno-immortalism, and so on in the first place.
For one thing, these sub(cult)ures offer up discourses that -- despite their abiding marginality and extremity in the strict sense -- combine attitudes and formulations favoring technocratic elitism over democratic deliberation, technofixes over engagement with structural social problems (like unsustainable industry and hyper-consumerism, like anti-social hyper-individualism, like the interminable cycles of violence maintained by militarism, like the corrupt and antidemocratizing manufacture of consent via broadcast mediation), foreground reductionist explanatory vocabularies that valorize instrumental rationality over moral, aesthetic, ethical, and political rationalities (thereby deranging them all -- including instrumental rationality itself), insist on an impoverishment and naturalization of the "developmental" imaginary to terms expressive of corporate-military competitiveness -- all in ways that are too readily appropriated (sometimes in slightly diluted forms) by incumbent elite interests I oppose as a champion of democracy, sustainability, and social justice.
Just as bad, as I have repeatedly tried to show, they cite and mobilize transcendental vocabularies that activate irrational passions at precisely the moment when planetary technodevelopmental social struggles demand clear deliberation, evoking the inevitabilities of providential discourse, the rapturous totalities of apocalyptic and transcension discourses, the acquiescence to authority of Priestly discourses, and so on, all of which I abhor as barriers to nonviolent deliberation and contestation of the terms of ongoing technoscientific change I demand as a champion of democracy.
For another thing -- apart from this practical point of their sometimes disproportionate influence on public discourse as an especially nice fit with incumbent politics (even if many incumbents would publicly disassociate themselves from the letter of Superlative formations) -- it is also true that one can sometimes understand the dynamics and categories and relations in more prevailing discourses by locating especially pure variations of these discourses at their extremes or at their vital cores.
It is immensely clarifying to one's understanding of the market fundamentalism of neoliberal globalization (the most influential political ideology of the last thirty years, amounting to the incumbent conventional wisdom governing the mostly dreadful domestic and international policies of my entire adult lifetime) to study the especially clear-eyed anarcho-capitalist formulations of David Friedman (son of neoliberal luminary Milton) and the especially unabashed narratives of Ayn Rand (best-selling reactionary crap-novelist), even if the mainstream wonks, pundits, legislators, and functionaries who actually implement the neoliberal vision on the ground are little likely to invoke these uncompromising figures at the vital core of their discourse, or necessarily even to have read them.
So, too, one arrives at an especially clear understanding of the curious aspirations, distractions, emphases, aporias, and tics that drive privileged technocentric and technocratic public discourses (from the apologias for various devastating extractive industries to the technophilic neoliberalism of Tom Friedman or the technophilic neoconservatism of Glenn Reynolds), by focusing on the workings of the Superlative Technology Discourses that express undiluted, if possibly more deluded, forms of these aspirations, distractions, emphases, aporias, and tics.
As I have said before, the technophilic libertopian cult of Extropianism was incomparably more interesting and influential as a symptom, or even condensed essence, of the irrational exuberance of the "Long Boom" digirati of the 1990s of which they were also a part, than they ever were on their own terms, and it was as a symptom, as a signifier of those more dense, more qualified prevailing tendencies that Extropianism attracted the critical attention it did from technocultural scholars and others. The same remains true of my own interest in Superlativity in our own historical moment.
Both of the quotations above may be found David Edgerton's book The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900, by the way, which Arthur recommends in his blog-post (I haven't read it myself, but it looks quite interesting).