The Future through the Past

Halaf period pottery of Northern Mesopotamia is among the most complex and developed of the prehistoric world. The geometric and colourful designs cover almost every inch of the pots and dishes – which is especially striking when you consider they were crafted before the potter’s wheel and most other advances in pottery except for kiln-firing. The vessel’s walls are very thin, which is difficult, and they were produced in a wide variety of forms, showing off the potter’s amazing talents and creativity.

The pottery of the Southern Mesopotamian Ubaid period which followed is markedly different. Rather than being individual, aesthetically beautiful pieces reflecting incredible craftsmanship, Ubaid period pottery tends to be characterised by being rough, slip-shod, and spotty. The clay itself is usually uneven in places, the designs painted on with such speed that they often appear crude and run into each other.

But it is not believed that Ubaid period pottery reflects a step backward in the discipline. Rather, it is simply a step in a different direction. Most scholars believe that the change in style is a direct result of the shift towards the creation of pottery becoming a sort of cottage industry. While none of the technology has changed, the techniques have been generalised in order to make the most amount of pottery in the least amount of time.

I believe we are undergoing a similar sort of change in the areas of communication and personal expression. With the advent of the internet (and social networking sites particularly) we are seeing a marked change from the old forms of communication in the past. No longer is the focus on trying to take your time and express your feelings, in order to share and discuss your experiences, ideas, and state of mind. What the online social networker seems to be doing these days is casting a wide net to try and elicit feeling. The quality of these “conversations” does not seem to matter to these people, and what is most important is the quantity of their responses– how many comments or friends they recieve as a result of them. This is a significant change.

What does this change mean? Well for one thing it means that people in general seem to be less concerned with real issues, as everything but the shallow act of “connecting” needs to be strip-mined from their conversations. It also means that, because of the addictive nature of these social-networking programs, we are seeing a vast increase in the amount of time people spend using them, resulting in the eating up of time people might otherwise use for reflection or face-to-face socialising.

So is slow thinking going to be replaced by social-network thinking? Only time will tell. It is worth noting, however, that the world currently supports many different legitimate ways to create pottery, from the craftsman model to full-scale mass-production. But at the same time, our industrially crafted pottery is also getting increasingly sophisticated, and has been for many years. Could this mean a similar change might occur in the way we eventually think and socialise — faster and better? I don’t think that this is something that is unlikely as it might seem.


  1. …Not because I see myself in it, but because you called me master of the internet! Jerk. Had I known you were going to blog about this…

  2. haha I would say my idea in the post below this is more directed at you. This has nothing to do with you! It’s more connections that were made over New Scientist this morning.

  3. I loved this entry I thought the setup and execution were mastery mein freund. Also I did actually think your last comic was funny, but as you may have ascertained I get a huge bone from being an ignorant jerk so thus the comment. All I wanted so say though is this was a great entry, you go girl!

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