Dating the “planetary UX” to the fifteenth century is something like chronological anchoring of the genealogy of extant metaphors to the nearest historical point where some recognizable physical basis exists. The 15th century is sort of the Garden of Eden of the modern experience of technology. It represents the point where our current balloon started to get inflated.
When we think of differences between historical periods, we tend to focus on the most superficial of human differences that have very little coupling to technological progress.
Quick, imagine the fifteenth century. You’re thinking of people in funny pants and hats, right (if you’re of European descent. Mutatis mutandis if you are not)? Perhaps you are thinking of dimensions of social experience like racial diversity and gender roles.
Think about how trivial and inconsequential changes on those fronts are, compared to the changes on the technological front. We’ve landed on the moon, we screw around with our genes, we routinely fly at 30,000 feet at 500 mph. You can repeat those words a thousand times and you still won’t be able to appreciate the magnitude of the transformation the way you can appreciate the magnitude of a radical social change (a Black man is president of the United States!).
If I am still not getting through to you, imagine having a conversation over time-phone with someone living in 3000 BC. Assume there’s a Babel fish in the link. Which of these concepts do you think would be easiest to get across?
1. In our time, women are considered the equal of men in many parts of the world
2. In our time, a Black man is the most powerful man in the world
3. In our time, we can sequence our genes
4. In our time, we can send pictures of what we see to our friends around the world instantly
Even if the 3000 BC guy gets some vague, magic-based sense of what item 4 means, he or she will have no comprehension of the things in our mental models behind that statement (Facebook, Instagram, the Internet, wireless radio technology). Item 3 will not be translatable at all.
But this does not mean that he does not understand your present. It means you do not understand your own present in any meaningful way. You are merely able to function within it."