Steven J. Moss
Last month, driving from Heron’s Head Park on a sunny Saturday, I found myself at a blinking red light at the corner of Third Street and Cargo Way. A long freight train’s passage had triggered the traffic signal. As the container cars slowly rattled past, the locomotive howled a series of long, mournful horn blasts. It sounded like the death cry of a prehistoric beast. While I waited for the snaking metal chain to make its way out of the intersection, I checked email on my iPhone.
More than any other part of San Francisco, we live amidst the remnants of the 19th century industrial age while the 21st century rises around us. On the Central Waterfront, a now derelict power plant smokestack rises up surrounding by a still partially active shipyard, while across the street high-tech workers are designing self-heating jackets and light emitting diodes in a building in which fish were once canned. In Mission Bay scientists toil in laboratories mixing up the latest gene therapies, while next door a game invented in the 18th century is played in a stadium built in the 20th. The Old Clam House—San Francisco’s oldest same location restaurant, since 1861—on the corner of Bayshore and Oakdale avenues is a bicycle—a device invented not long after the Clam House served its first plate of shellfish—ride away to a dozen eateries that opened their doors just in the last year.
Progress used to be defined by continual creative destruction. Talking in person was supplemented by drums, smoke signals and flags, which were largely replaced by the telegraph, which was laid low by the teletype, until both were jostled aside by radio and telephone, eventually supplemented by facsimiles, until the Internet disrupted everything again.
This sequential adoption-retirement pattern isn’t mandatory, and may not be desirable. Today, more than any other time, we have the ability to choose which mix of devices and technologies serve us best. Like the holographic photographs embedded in the printed newspapers imagined in Harry Potter, the new and the old can be blended together in the same way a D.J. plays a strand of Mozart, followed by a blast of JC’s rap.
The future is ours. And so is the past. It’s up to us to choose. How cool is that.
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