Our highly literate societies are at a loss as they encounter the new structures of opinion and feeling that result from instant and global information. They are still in the grip of “points of view” and of habits of dealing with things one at a time. Such habits are quite crippling in any electric structure of information movement, yet they could be controlled if we recognized whence they had been acquired. But literate society thinks of its artificial visual bias as a thing natural and innate.

Literacy remains even now the base and model of all programs of industrial mechanization; but, at the same time, it locks the minds and senses of its users in the mechanical and fragmentary matrix that is so necessary to the maintenance of mechanized society. This is why the transition from mechanical to electric technology is so very traumatic and severe for us all. The mechanical techniques, with their limited powers, we have long used as weapons. The electric techniques cannot be used aggressively except to end all life at once, like the turning off of a light. To live with both of these technologies at the same time is the peculiar drama of the twentieth century.

In his Education Automation, R. Buckminster Fuller considers that weaponry has been a source of technological advance for mankind because it requires continually improved performance with ever smaller means. “As we went from the ships of the sea to the ships of the air, the performance per pound of the equipment and fuel became of even higher importance than on the sea.”

It is this trend toward more and more power with less and less hardware that is characteristic of the electric age of information.


The city, like a ship, is a collective extension of the castle of our skins, even as clothing is an extension of hands, nails, teeth , and come into existence as tools needed for accelerating the processing of matter. Today, when we live in a time of sudden transition from mechanical to electric technology, it is easier to see the character of all previous technologies, we being detached from all of them for the time being. Since our new electric technology is not an extension of our bodies but of our central nervous systems, we now see all technology, including language, as a means of processing experience, a means of storing and speeding information. And in such a situation all technology can plausibly be regarded as weapons.

Previous wars can now be regarded as the processing of difficult and resistant materials by the latest technology, the speedy dumping of industrial products on an enemy market to the point of social saturation. War, in fact, can be seen as a process of achieving equilibrium among unequal technologies, a fact that explains Toynbee’s puzzled observation that each invention of a new weapon is a disaster for society, and that militarism itself is the most common cause of the breaking of civilizations.