Lost in Wonderland

It's a brave new world out there. Factory workers are made of metal and plastic; money, an increasingly abstract proposition, is made and lost not in workshops and fields but on flickering screens; databases grind through a million mainframes, assembling your biography and mine to a fantastic degree of detail; food is synthetic, and only dinosaurs lack microwave ovens in which to nuke it to edibility; half the country can't place the Soviet Union on a map but can direct-dial a telephone number in Moscow in a minute's time. The electronic age is upon us, and we are scarcely able to fathom the enormous changes it portends.

O.B. Hardison, Jr. wants to help. A professor of English literature, like the clairvoyant Hugh Kenner and Marshall McLuhan, and former director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Hardison has now set up shop as a futurist. He is excited by the effects of all this newfangled technology on the arts—and on our culture, our souls.

His new book, Disappearing Through the Skylight, abounds in that excitement, and, if Hardison bites off more than he or his readers can comfortably chew, he does not apologize for it. Instead, he takes us on a whirlwind tour of the history of the future—that is, of 20th-century developments leading to today's electronic wonderland—that dizzyingly spins from subject to subject: architectural semantics, artificial intelligence, mathematical...

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