Michelle Sullivan Communications

The Internet and social media: a modern day steam engine?

I took advantage of a recent visit to Quebec City to check out the fine arts museum’s newest exhibit, Paintings from the Reign of Victoria. Mostly landscapes, so not really my cup of tea, but William Powell Frith’s 1862 painting ‘The Railway Station’ caught my eye, not only because of its composition, which is pretty interesting, but because of a quote from a contemporary London News art critic recorded in the curatorial comments of the painting’s identification card:

The iron rails are welded into every life-history … The steam engine is the incarnate spirit of the age — a good genius to many, an evil demon to some.

Naturally, with my 2.0/2.0 vision, I made the leap to the Internet and social media.

Like the steam engine described by the critic from the London News, the Internet in general and social media in particular is not only considered good or evil depending on your point of view, but brings people together, allowing them to ‘travel’ over distances never before accessible to most people. Like the steam engine, the Internet/social media is fast, easy, accessible and ‘transports’ people and products … or at least facilitates it. The social impact in both cases  is unmistakable.

The steam engine was the symbol of the industrial age. The Internet and all of its components .. including social media .. are certainly the symbol of what we’ve come to  call the Information Age, and what some are now calling the Attention Age.

We live in fascinating times.

150 years from now, when someone in a museum leans over to read the identification card next to the work of a net artist like Olia Lialina — presuming identification cards … or museums for that matter … still exist as we know them now — what will their equivalent of 2.0/2.0 vision look like, I wonder?


  1. Gabriel

    2010.07.23 @ 22:05

    While many may have easily chosen rail and the internet as the drivers of each social economic period, you’ve so eloquently verbalized the “sameness” of each in a way that after hearing it…. the parallels seem so obvious, beautiful observation.

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