The Future Belongs to Crowds

The thousands stand and chant. Around them in the world, people ride escalators going up and sneak secret glances at the faces coming down. People dangle teabags over hot water in white cups. Cars run silently on the autobahns, streaks of painted light. People sit at desks and stare at office walls. They smell their shirts and drop them in the hamper. People bind themselves into numbered seats and fly across time zones and high cirrus and deep night, knowing there is something they’ve forgotten to do.

The future belongs to crowds.

       — From Mao II, by Don Delillo (1991)

Like novelist Don Delillo, I’m fascinated and horrified by crowds, whether on networks or in the physical world. So I suppose it shouldn’t have been surprising that recently, while navigating the ever-thicker mewling masses in a Los Angeles International Airport terminal, the above passage from Delillo’s classic musing on public claustrophobia and coordinated masses came unbidden to my mind. 

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