Social Change and Tech Flux: Downton Abbey

I recently finished watching the first season of Downton Abbey and I was struck by how similar the culture of turn-of-the-century England is to our current turn-of-the-millenium culture.  Here are a few observations.

1. This takes place at the beginning of the slow disintegration of the class system.  We are also on the cusp of a modern day class struggle with the momentum of the Occupy movement, the idea of the Internet being the Great Equalizer.

2. New technology is emerging. We see it at the first episode with the electricity and the last episode with the telephone.  As the castle is outfitted with electricity, the new tech is met with suspicion and fear by some and embraced by others.  Seeing Carson the butler practice answering the phone was hysterical and reminiscent of people recording (and re-recording) voice mail messages or changing Facebook profile pictures.

3. Medicine is changing because of new developments.  Again, new tech incites fear and loathing.  At last month’s Technori Pitch, Siri Co-Founder, Dag Kittlaus opened his talk referencing a home printer that would output a piping hot, slice of pizza ready to eat.  He stated that this technology is already in development for use in medicine to produce genetic reproductions of organs.

4. Current events challenge the direction of the laws.  The way the tides turn with the changing of hands involving the Estate and Cora’s fortune reflect discontent with older values.  Today, we have SOPA and PIPPA.  Enough said.

5. New ways of doing charity are born.  When the cook begins to go blind, she fears for her life and livelihood.  She has no health insurance or retirement plan.  The kindness of the “masters” is shocking and revolutionary as they send her to the city to see an eye doctor.  Downton Abbey portrays this kindness not as patronizing, but logical.   It was not a legal mandate but it was a human one.

This still holds true today.  What is right and ethical behavior does not always line up with what is legal.  I recently came across the Innovate/Activate Conference, a group interested in furthering global welfare and activism even with changes in technology and intellectual property.  This stands in stark contrast with tech marauders Intellectual Ventures.  Whether it’s 1913 or 2013, we still have choices to make.