Virginia Postrel on textiles and technology, nature and magic

1024 bits of woven core memory. Photo: Konstantin Lanzet CC BY-SA 3.0

Here’s a great highlight from a fascinating and very entertaining podcast from a16z: Textiles as Tech, Science, Math, Culture… or Civilization.


Sonal Chokshi: “We suffer textile amnesia because we enjoy textile abundance.”

Viginia Postrel: “This really has mostly happened in my lifetime – I’m sixty – where textiles have just become so abundant and so cheap that we really don’t think about them.

Obviously I’m really contrasting it to a pre-industrial period, where to make enough thread to weave the fabric in a pair of jeans would take something like thirteen eight hour days, and that’s the fastest spinners in the world, and that’s just making the thread, that’s not preparing the fibre to make the thread, it’s not weaving, it’s not dyeing, it’s not any of the other processes.

So we live in this world where fabric is everywhere, and it’s really cheap… and so we do take it for granted. We don’t think about where it comes from, and we don’t think about the labour or the ingenuity over thousands and thousands of years … “

SC: “This is exactly where there’s parallels to [digital] technology, because… the agricultural revolution was as much about fibre as it was food, but the industrial revolution did bring all these technologies, and as you point out, the hours that goes into making thread – the cost reductions and everything that that then enables, that’s exactly what’s playing out with technology right now, if you think about transistors being cheap and almost so ubiquitous as to be wasted, so abundant as to be forgotten…”

VP: “Arthur C. Clarke famously said, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ … and what I say… is, ‘Any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable with nature.’

… We know intellectually that it’s not natural, that somebody made it, that there were machines involved and chemistry and all those things, but we never really think about it. … of course, there’s no such thing as natural fibres – all of the, what I call biological fibres, are the product of many many small concerted human interventions. They’re basically genetically modified organisms…

Sonal Chokshi interviewing Virginia Postrel on the 16z Podcast: Textiles as Tech, Science, Math, Culture… or Civilization

See also:

Amusing Planet: When Computer Memory was Hand Woven by Women


Kevin Kelly: Ubiquity changes everything
WTF? technology and you
A chip in everything: find me
A chip in everything: build me, share me

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