I enjoyed a nice week off, during which time the Earth swung one more time past my day of birth. One of the places I visited during hiatus was a Steampunk lounge. The premise is built on the idea that Charles Babbage, or someone else, completed an analytical engine
around 1840. It was by some accounts the first full-blown computer with the capacity to carry forward and store answers, i.e., memory. The idea, so the story goes, led to better and more compact designs eventually bordering on near nano-tech like breakthroughs enabling all sorts of interesting robotic and cybernetic devices. Eventually, with the invention of telegraph and telephones, and the lines to carry complex signals, the Info Age dawned in 1890 or so, a full century early. This first-wave sci-fi genre remained fairly obscure throughout the reality of the 1990s. But a lot of the people who read it were also into programming, some went on to develop video games, or contribute to movies and series, so the fashion and art influence grew and evolved in different ways in a second wave.
That alternative history is called Steampunk, a play on Cyberpunk. But it struck me that in some ways, we do live in a steamy-punkish world. True, the technology that is the most ubiquitous is Wi-Fi and iPads and social media. But what still drives it, the underlying industrial infrastructure mostly unseen by today’s cell phone addict, is gears and wheels, powered by burning gas, oil and coal, turning water into steam to produce electricity.