Did our astonishment at new inventions fade?


When I was a kid, I would sometimes watch silent movies, especially when I was at my grandparents’ house and particularly the ones featuring Laurel and Hardy. This brought me a bit of curiosity for the early age of films. I remember my parents telling me abut different stories regarding the first years of cinema, the craziest of which was the first screening of the ‘L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de la Ciotat’. This movie filmed and directed by the Lumière brothers simply shows a train arriving at a station. I was told that the people watching the movie were so scared of seeing a train coming directly to them from the screen that some panicked and left the theatre. Now, in reality, this might not have happened; people did not physically leave the theatre but the film indeed:

 “had a particularly lasting impact; yes, it caused fear, terror, even panic.”

Hellmuth Karasek, Der Spiegel
A frame of the movie ‘L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de la Ciotat’

A matter of generations?

Lately, I was thinking of how technology and especially digital technology does not really surprise us that much anymore. People belonging to an older generation might still be surprised by things such the touchscreen or biometric recognition technology (face recognition or fingerprint recognition) found on something as small as a phone. Perhaps they can also be surprised by the enormous advances in computer technology such as the power of modern computer and their storage capacity that keeps increasing. Millennials and Gen Zs though, seem to not share the same surprise for inventions. Supercomputers and Quantum computers are solving mathematical problems that the human brain can barely even theorize.

Nevertheless, I have never seen people scared or particularly surprised by new technology. It seems that the more technology advances, the less we are astonished by new inventions. People were astonished at the iPhone touchscreen when the first iPhone came out, no more buttons, now your whole phone was a screen. Phone cameras then started competing with digital cameras, and now only professional-grade cameras are still widely sold since phone cameras cannot yet compete with them. Now phones have the computing and storage capabilities that computers had only a decade ago. Modern phones are more powerful than the 1980s Cray-2 Supercomputer, and they are miles away from what smartphones were a mere ten years ago. I found a Samsung article that states “our first Galaxy S smartphone released in 2010 had just 512MB of RAM and 8GB or 16GB in total storage”, a new top-grade Samsung phone like the Galaxy S was in 2010 is the Note20 family, consisting of the Galaxy Note20 and the Note20 Ultra, the more powerful of the two, the Ultra, has 12 GB of RAM and up to 512 GB of storage. It can also slot a microSD to boost the capacity to 2TB, which is a lot more than most modern PCs’ built-in storage (not counting external hard disks).

The Cray-2 Supercomputer
A Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra

What about space?

It just seems to me that we will not experience surprise or panic at a new invention, sure we might look at a car that is driving itself if we see a Tesla on the highway with the driver looking at his or her phone and be a bit confused about the situation, but the feeling will probably die off in a few minutes. Allied pilots in World War Two were utterly baffled when they first encountered Axis jet planes such as the Messerschmitt Me-262, the plane was so much faster compared to what the allied were flying that is was untouchable. It brought fear to pilots and soldiers on the ground. Nowadays, even military technology seems standard, after the invention of the atomic bomb, is there anything that can surprise us?

A Me-262
A metal cutter that uses laser techology

I would say that the only way to surprise the human race right now would be to invent things that we have heard only in Sci-Fi movies (some, like laser, have already been invented) like teletransportation or spaceships. Spaceships might nevertheless occur before the end of this century since some people, mainly Elon Musk, seem to be very focused on colonizing Mars by 2050. Sure, they will not resemble Star Trek or Star Wars spaceships, but they technically will be.

What Mars could look like by 2050


In my opinion, this lack of amazedness is a bit sad, humans have been amazed by new technologies and inventions since the beginning of time, and now we are depriving ourselves of this feeling. Have we become too used to new and ground-breaking inventions, especially the leap that the 20th century was for technology? Did all the inventions that happened in just 100 years just silenced our astonishment and curiosity for new things?

More importantly, will the human race ever be shocked to the point of fear again, like the people in the movie theatre were when viewing a train arriving at its station?


Der Spiegel article

L’ Arrivée d’un train en gare de la Ciotat

Samsung Note20 vs Cray-2