Henson and Stringfellow’s AerialSteam Carriage of 1840 was the
flagship of the world’s first airline.
The Aerial Transit Company
released illustrations of the carriage in flight
over the pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal
and China’s Great Wall, and put a bill
before the British parliament which would
have allowed it to operate international air
routes. The House of Commons resounded
Ariel was to be made of bamboo and
hollow wood, and braced with wires. It was
to be powered by a steam engine driving
two six-bladed propellers. There was
virtually nothing about this design that
wasn’t later adopted in real aircraft. Ariel,
of course, never flew.
Though we lack the means to make
something, we already know how it will
work. Even before we know how it works,
we can guess its looks, and what it will feel
like, and how it will change our world.
In this issue, Arc explores our greatest,
strangest, and most unpredictable
invention: the human being. Like cows
and pigs and chickens, humans are a
domesticated breed. Over 50-million-odd
years, we have tamed ourselves. Cooking
has rid us of our need to hunt. Reading has
rid us of our need to remember. Law has rid
us of the need to judge.
But look at this the other way: cooking
gives us time to invent; literacy speaks
across the generations; the laws we inherit
nudge us towards a better, kinder life.
The idea that we are our own invention is
discomforting. Is no one in charge of the
human project? Should they be? Should we
try to organise our future? Or is this the last
thing we should do, if we hope to survive in
this rich, complex, ambiguous world?
What will life on the human farm be like
in fifty years? Will the fences loom higher
around us, or will they have vanished?
For our second issue, we drop some foxes
into the human hen coop. Feathers will fly.
Nevertheless, in 50 years time, you can bet
the farm we’ll still be tinkering – with our
machines, and with each other.