“I say there is no species of technology that have ever gone globally extinct on this planet.” Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly told NPR yesterday. “I can’t find any [invention, tool, technology] that has disappeared completely from Earth.” It’s a topic Metafilter has taken up in earnest.
Does this mean we should stop worrying about the end of Polaroid film? Finally, the debate over the death of painting can be put to rest! It will never die.
On the other hand, I’d guess that a fair bit of the technology involved in stained glass at its height no longer exists, which is a shame. It’s the type of field where professionals would necessarily be cagey about their pigment recipes — scarcity is their livelihood — and since few people wrote, very little was preserved. I’ve been told that even today there are pigments produced during that time that we can’t reproduce. An analogous example from the music world are the violins of Antonio Stradivarius. What exactly did he put in his varnishes that produced a sound quality that has “defied attempts to explain or reproduce”?
Kelly’s hypothesis might work if we assume that technique and recipes are something that can be lost, but I still wonder if there aren’t tools that have been forgotten from medieval Europe. We know very little about this period because there are so few historical records, which makes me think seems there are at least a few technological advances made during that time that have vanished.
Naturally, the question of whether artistic styles ever disappear came to mind last night while discussing the topic with a friend. This seems like another good question for the art historians in the bunch — my own job description only requires that I track movements currently in practice. For what it’s worth though, I wouldn’t mind if Viennese Actionism eventually bit the dust. It may be closed-minded of me to condone the end of any movement, but I just don’t have the stomach to watch self-mutilation.