Friday, February 29, 2008

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

I posted the following as a comment over at ReadWriteWeb in a thread about the Economist debates on whether Web technology is making our lives better.

A man universally renowned for his wisdom once said, "There is nothing new under the sun. All is vanity and chasing after wind."

Human nature has not changed since the beginnings of recorded history. Look at the Greek or Norse gods, Native American tales, Gilgamesh, the Baghvadgita, the Bible, Confucius, the Arthur cycle, the Edda, Chaucer, Shakespeare, etc., etc. You will see the very same human wants, needs, faults, and foibles as we see today.

Want to see a struggle to improve one's lot in life? See the ancient African tales of Anansi the Spider, or the Native American tales of Coyote. Noble sacrifice for a great cause? Look to the Spartans of Thermopylae, Roland at Roncesvaux, or today's Medal of Honor recipients. Soap-opera infidelity? Peek at Guinevere and Lancelot, or King David and Bathsheba.

Human needs have not changed. What *has* changed is the way we go about meeting those needs. For entertainment we download MP3s - remix our own - instead of waiting for a traveling minstrel to come through town. For news we have an RSS feed piped to our Blackberry. To communicate long-distance we use Twitter or Skype rather than couriers carrying sealed scrolls.

The ends are the same, but the means have changed. On those means, though, are industries and empires built and lost. There's not much of a market for sealing wax these days. But build a killer Facebook app, and you might make a buck.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. The more that things change, the more they stay the same.

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