We are living in challenging circumstances that put us in front of an imperative crossroad. On the one hand, it is easy to imagine dystopian and disheartening scenarios for the future; on the other, there is a force of equal intensity leading us to think about renewal, rebirth, and palingenesis.
Thanks to technology, the world is moving faster and faster, improving interconnectedness, capabilities, and relationships. With so much evolving in such a short period, it can be difficult to draw a detailed picture of the future implications of technology on society, even for those who are insiders in STEM. But there is a still an old, reliable tool that comes to our aid: history. History can provide us with clues about what to expect, primarily because certain contextual factors have already happened in the past. It will be our compass to navigate what appears to be a potential new digital Renaissance.
We have recently left behind the comparative adolescence of the 21st century, and like the adolescence of every century, our progress has been characterized by destruction and somewhat brutal attempts to renovate our reality. This might not seem like a very fertile field for a new digital Renaissance, but we must not forget that the Italian Renaissance was also not born in an idealized context. It was the fruit of a new way of perceiving human beings, technology, and our potential to create.
The fascination with and fear of the machine have given way to analysis, criticism, and efforts to take advantage of technology in our daily lives. Hundreds of years ago, Renaissance individuals freed themselves from the dogmas of religion in order to place themselves at the center of their own destiny. Likewise, a new digital Renaissance will give mankind the opportunity to amplify their capacities through technology.
This growth will not only benefit science, but also arts, engineering, visual communications and various creative fields. Research and freedom of thought are the basis for a concrete rebirth of human culture, in the 21st century as in the 15th century. At Technical Arts, these core values are the foundation for the imaginative tools necessary to build our visions.
Technology in the contemporary era is a new religion; the internet provides the answers to all of our questions and affects our private as well as professional lives. However, contrary to what one might think, technology was the religion of 15th-century Renaissance mankind as well. Scientific revolution and mechanical inventions influenced daily life, but they also impacted the mindset of the entire historical period.
Renaissance technologies, like present-day inventions, advanced at an impressive speed, creating a reciprocal exchange with humanity. As more people saw what was possible through discovery, they set out to answer questions of their own. Astrolabes, parachutes, and mechanized working processes were only some of the technical advancements that profoundly influenced society. Patent law was created during the Italian Renaissance fora reason! Science and technology were merged into a single discipline, but they also influenced art, as we can see with the technical invention of linear perspective in drawing.
A specific technical discovery marked the Renaissance and created bridges with the present: printing. Printing presses allowed people to spread information with ease. The quantity of books increased exponentially, and with them the amount of dataavailable. In the Renaissance, thanks to print, knowledge went from being a solitary work, to a work of openness and debate.
This parallelism with the internet era seems both fitting and fascinating. Contemporary mankind found themselves faced with an overexposure to information, an overwhelming quantity of data, and storage issues. At the same time, our modern society has full access to knowledge, much of which is open source and collaborative. Embracing this development, as humans of the 15th and 16th centuries did, would lead to a new digital but parallelly human Renaissance.
2. Artist-engineers and Interdisciplinarity
The Renaissance was characterized by the presence of veritable polymaths. Not only skilled experts, these intellectuals were also capable of combining different sources of knowledge. Artists-engineers left behind an important corpus of technical drawings that pioneered ideas and innovations. First among all was Leonardo da Vinci, who planned a variety of automated machines and mechanical “robots,” but also Brunelleschi and Taccola, known for their designs of innovative lifting devices.
Although the research of these exemplary scientists and artists is invaluable on its own, their methods are also important for present-day thinkers. Renaissance leaders had a wide range of interests and the ability to connect different fields of expertise. In a technological era that demands flexibility and dynamic approaches, it’s essential to reject specialization in favor of interdisciplinarity. Some creatives are already leading the way in the regard, as evidenced by the integrative work of contemporary artists.
Contemporary artists, like Renaissance artists-engineers, are often involved in sciences, technology, and engineering. Instead of drawing sketches, they deal with data, artificial intelligence, algorithms, and robotics. There are artists and performers who support transhumanism ideology and show the advantages of technological devices by installing them in their own body.
Even without getting to the extreme level of cyborgs, the art world has already radically changed in a digital sense. Art markets and art fairs have moved online as museums continue to increase their digital presence. These moves have also led to traditional art institutions investing in the possibility of open-source education and public domain resources. Art has also acquired more value in life; it is increasingly a reliable form of investment. Artists are authentical polymaths, who use their expertise in the STEM field to produce art.
The renewal has already started, and as the ancient Renaissance teaches us, an interdisciplinary approach will be necessary to understand it.
3. A humanist perspective
A new digital Renaissance does not mean that this revolution will not be a human one. Once again, let us try to think of the first Renaissance. The scientific and mechanical revolution was accompanied by a rediscovery of classical sources, the power of intuition, and a more spiritual nature called Humanism. From a philosophical point of view, the end of the religious authority shifted the focus on the importance of mankind and, consequently, on the importance of finding new rules to autonomously exist together.
There are indicators that we are heading along a similar path in our current society. Debates about ecology, sustainable capitalism, digital ethics, people, and the state of the planet are growing louder every day. The Italian Renaissance was powered by human creativity, a force we see currently shaping the world around us today. Unexpectedly, technology is helping in this regard. It is no longer merely connected to the idea of creating machines to improve efficiency and productivity, but also to the concept of empowering human skills. A new Renaissance is feasible, but most of all a new Humanism is at hand.
That is why investing now in digital technologies to support arts and humanities is so important. A collaboration between STEM experts and art institutions is necessary to forge a strong intersection between technology and human values, as the first Renaissance humanists managed to achieve. Technical Arts knows the worth of ethical technology and its positive impact, not only in the field of art but for society as a whole. We want to contribute to this digital rebirth and help create a better, more collaborative world for all.