Building peace in the minds of men and women

What is modern?

What do we mean by "modern"? The concept is elusive, ambiguous, everchanging. It is a paradox, constantly disputed, that refuses to be pinned down by even a tentative definition. That which is modern is that which defies its own definition, or is defined in negative terms, by what it is not.

There are modern things, not only objects but also functions, qualities and forms of behaviour. Compact discs are modern and so are organ transplants and concern for the environment. A taste for superlatives is one feature of modernity, whether applied to the prowess of athletes or the softness of detergents. Extremity of scale is another, one might think the minuscule in electronics, the gigantic in architecture.

Perhaps the best way to understand "the modern" is to take a cluster of modern phenomena and to see what signs, clues and images they reveal. Acting on this assumption, we asked men and women from different backgrounds, cultures and walks of life artists, designers, writers, architects, musicians, philosophers, doctors, engineers to investigate the concept of modernity. To help them on their way we suggested a number of ideas, clues and keywords such as fragmention, the act of seeing, disorder, miniature, new, audio and invisible.

As it happened, some of these clues did not lead far. However, new pointers emerged. Where they led to can be seen on the following pages, in a compilation of images and "signs of the times" that illustrate some of the innumerable manifestations of modernity.

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July - August 1993