Despite its modest size, a new exhibition in Zurich is taking an ambitious look at three radical changes which have shaped people's lives over the past 10,000 years. "Paradise Lost", at the Swiss national museum, poses fundamental questions about the Neolithic, the Industrial, and the Communication revolutions.This content was published on October 7, 2001 - 11:57
Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors transformed themselves from nomadic hunter-gatherers into farmers and cattle-breeders. This, says Beat Kappeler, a contributing editor to the "Weltwoche" newspaper, led to the first revolution, and what was seen as a lost paradise.
"In the Bible and other writings, the abandonment of nomadic life was seen as a paradise lost," he says. "I now ask myself whether we are in the process of reinventing a new paradise. We are becoming nomads by transporting all our knowledge through mobile phones and by companies which are establishing themselves in electronic market-places."
Kappeler adds that he can imagine a future society in which we are much more mobile. The ability to conduct business and domestic transactions electronically, he says, will make us resemble the nomads who took all their belongings with them wherever they went - so you could say the wheel is turning full circle.
After the Neolithic period, the second radical change in the history of mankind didn't begin until about 1750, with the advent of the industrial revolution and the consequent population explosion. Mechanisation and mass production became the order of the day, as the exhibition shows.
But it also points out that knowledge was then, long before the Internet, a luxury many couldn't afford. The annual income of a reasonably well-off family would hardly pay for a set of encyclopaedias.
These days, access to knowledge is available within seconds at a comparatively low cost.
The co-organiser of the exhibition, Hans Peter Treichler, says the growth of the Internet is continuing at such a pace that he finds it impossible to predict the nature of a "fourth" revolution, which will follow the explosion in data-processing and communications systems. "Researching the three revolutions which are the subject of this exhibition was quite enough for now," he told swissinfo.
The exhibition "Paradise Lost - 10,000 years to the Microchip" is at the national museum in Zurich until January 6.
by Richard Dawson