What do Picasso, a French telephone operator, and the British navy have in common?
Each used cubist-painting techniques to make objects in a field of vision appear to be equal in distance with their background. In doing so, they forever changed how people perceive space and also invented camouflage in the process.
While the Picasso made his breakthrough to Cubism in 1907, it wasn't until 1914 that Guirand de Scevola conceived of camouflage. Working as a telephone operator for a French artillery unit, de Scevola (a painter himself) realized that there was a way to conceal artillery guns using a net splashed with earth colors in a cubist manner. Quickly adopted by the French army, it took three more years for the British navy to devise a way of painting the sides of ships with geometric patterns to make them more difficult for German u-boat captains to judge a ship's distance and speed when looking at it through a periscope.
As Stephen Kern points out in The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918, this example is not only intellectually interesting, but yields a deep insight into the nature of societal change. "In cultural histories the causal arrow usually runs from technology to culture. In the case of cubism and camouflage, however, it went the other way, from cubist art to war technology."
I am now entering the third year of researching and writing my book on Neurotechnology and Society. Having spent the first year exploring the underlying technologies and last year envisioning the political and economic impacts of neurotechnology, the end is in view.
My primary focus is now on art and culture. As the above example highlights -- even though technology is a primary initiator of change, it also operates within the walls of political and cultural contexts not completely of its making. Given this fact, I am sure that the thoughts uncovered over the next few months will provide further evidence of our emerging neurosociety.
I look forward to sharing my journey and complete vision with you in 2004.