MACHINE OF TOMORROW!
Note: this essay was submitted to Sarah Lawrence College in response to the prompt "Write an essay."
The Machine is an abstract idea that people hold in their minds as something that will be ultimately tangible and will change the course of the world for better or for worse. The Machine is manifested physically as a box. I shall refer to it as The Box. However, it is not a cave-box of Plato that confines and fetters the mind, but a time capsule that comes to us from the Future. In it, Man has placed all of his dusk-sunset musings, ponderings, dreams and desires, both the Fear and Longing by which Man shapes his world. The Box is fundamentally aesthetic in nature because it is a physical object: Man gives The Box a shape and a name. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the electronic computer. It is a Box whose insides have turned from dreams and desires to transistors and wires, and I touched the innards of The Box when I built the proto-machine that helped me to understand that The Box is a physical projection of Tomorrow.
Visions from the past are buried in the ground or hidden behind masonry, like dead bodies; they no longer have a place in the world of sunlight and darkness. They are kept in a box known as a time capsule. The function of such a device is a reflection of man’s ceaseless struggle against the entropy of nature, which marks the passage of time. The time capsule of a dying child contains marbles and jacks, sandbox sand, pictures of friends from a place now far away; the time capsule of a dying adult may be a last will and testament and perhaps a coffin with a marker made of stone. All of these things are borne of a longing for what has past and a fear of the future.
The visions of the future which I find closest to my own understanding are those physical creations which seek to raise humanity’s consciousness, to shelter and feed both the mind and the body so that they can be strong enough to extend themselves to every corner of the observable universe. They are in essence time capsules from the future. They are borne of a longing for what has yet to pass and the ability to shape the future as it happens, becoming monuments instead of mausoleums. We build them to face the sunlight and stars, for people to see and scrutinize, and perhaps to enter and be enlightened in some way.
Le Corbusier and his concrete cathedral, Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp, is such a Box. It shelters and nourishes like an incubator of culture. Even today, 52 years after its creation, it challenges the senses in such a way as to make one think that it must be a product or a vision of the future. Such a thought makes sense when one considers that it was built only five years after the conclusion of World War II. Its machinery is at once built of the constancy of faith, but also of the dynamicism of civilization. One only needs to compare it to a classical cathedral in order to see this. Yet both Notre Dame de Paris and Notre Dame du Haut de Ronchamp are both Machines of Tomorrow. They both seek to inspire and invigorate those who enter within their walls toward some higher plane of understanding which is the forward-looking nature of civilization.
My own experiences have lead me to envisage such boxes and the machines contained within to have aesthetics styled by “futuromanticist” visions of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, modernist art and architecture, and IBM films from the 1960s. To me, The Box is sleek, strong-lined and clean-curved. It is made of Lucite, Plexiglas, stainless steel and aluminum. It is the sharply dressed men and women who, carrying stacks of thousands of punch cards, walk with utter efficiency and determination; they know that the Machine of Tomorrow is at hand and that it works. It promises Straighter Lines, Sharper Points, and the Infinite Subdivision of the Universe.
I held the box in my hand, physically, when I built a simple computer that could count to fifteen. Its four red and brilliant blinking lights spoke with such enthusiasm of all that had come before, and all that would be. I with my own hands had forged the proto-machine of past that is the basis of the technological world of today. But it was not a sleek and strong-lined box. It was a tangle of wires, transistors, resistors and capacitors clinging gingerly to a small breadboard. I honestly felt at the moment I switched it on that the future had been set in motion. But the future had already happened in the computer laboratories of decades past; the future was now; the future had past.
It then occurred to me that with my Machine, I had somehow tapped into all moments at once. Those four blinking lights which I had brought to life were the unique intersection and reinforcement of all my experiences and the experiences of all those who had trod through life before me. Thus, The Box is a physical projection of tomorrow in that it necessarily contains not only today’s tomorrow, but also the tomorrows of all days past.