Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars

By Joel Dinerstein | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
THE CONTINUING
IMPORTANCE OF
SWINGING THE
MACHINES

In this “third machine age, ” 1 Americans have sat themselves down to a new human/machine interface, and corporate advertisers pay to attract not citizens or consumers but “eyeballs” (a metonym like the factory “hand”) to the computer screen. At the outset of the information age, technological enthusiasts, similar to the railroad enthusiasts of the 1840s, predicted computers would create a circulatory system of goods and information destined to revolutionize democracy and accelerate progress. Consumers were thrilled by the instantaneous access to people, information, and goods on the World Wide Web—similar to the first generation of train passengers' experience of “an annihilation of time and space.” Meanwhile futurologists and cyberneticists studying artificial intelligence (or “AI”) predicted a coming “age of spiritual machines” that will make human thinking obsolete within fifty years—just as manual labor was headed for obsolescence in the face of assemblyline innovations. The brain as computer continues to be a common metaphor for mind among psychologists, philosophers, doctors, and researchers of cognition, and it has become common to imagine the self as “hardwired” or “programmed.” Revealing the vitality of the Cartesian and Christian traditions of the mind/body split, cyberpunk writers and programmers call the human body “meat” (or “the meat body”) to distinguish it from mind or consciousness. Concurrent with all this computer-driven techno-progress came the first swing revival since the 1940s, and I would submit that vernacular survival technology resurfaced, in part, to dialogue with new technology.

I am not suggesting that swing reflects and contains the postindustrial

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