How would you explain modern technology and media as a cultural artifact to a deceased person? More specifically, how would you explain the iPhone to Alexander Graham Bell or the Kindle to Charles Dickens? It’s a great question, a great thought experiment.
How does one take something modern users take for granted, and something that historical figures would have no reference point for, and make it accessible to them?
As part of a class assignment that asked students to explain a piece of modern day technology to someone who lived and died before 1900, Rachel Walsh pretty much nailed it.
“I chose to explain the Kindle to Charles Dickens because I thought it could’ve been a helpful piece of technology to have,” Walsh, a second year Illustration student studying at Cardiff School of Art & Design, explained to Gamma Squad. “He must’ve lugged a lot of heavy books around with him in his day!”
Walsh made 40 small books and placed them inside a larger book: “I made the book start to finish over five days, and it took about 35 hours to make I reckon. It was pretty painstaking cutting out all the gaps in the book itself, and making the books to go inside. They’re all bound like actual books, so as I waited for them to glue and dry I would design the covers for them. All the covers are copies of real book covers. They include many of Dickens’s novels, his favorite childhood books, and some of my own,” she said.
Crazy. But also very practical. What really sells this is Walsh’s inclusion of the fine details. She didn’t just cut out squares and call them books. No, she made tiny little books that Dickens may have owned and recreated their historical cover art. Just incredible. She takes the essence of what a Kindle is and uses a clever analogy to explain its function.
It would be similar to taking tiny vinyl records and lining the inside of a giant record to explain what an iPod is to someone using a phonograph.
As for attempting to explain an iPhone to Alexander Graham Bell? Well, good luck with that. You’d somehow have to explain how it’s not just a phone, but also a computer. But it would be cool to see an artist attempt to represent the analog functions of all the iPhone apps inside a larger shell.