Here are a couple descriptions of modernity that I’ve run across lately and found interesting.
First, from Eva Brann:
Now what is actually meant by “modern times?” The term cannot just mean “contemporary” because all times are con-temporary with themselves. Modern is a Latin word which means “just now.” Modern times are the times which are in a special way “just now!” Modernity is just-nowness, up-to-date-ness.
… We live differently in our time from the way those who came before us lived in theirs. For instance, when we speak of something or even someone as being “up to date” we are implying that what time it is, is significant, that time marches, or races, on by itself, and we have the task of keeping up with it. Our time is not a comfortable natural niche within the cycle of centuries, but a fast sliding rug being pulled out from under us.
Furthermore, we have a sense of the extraordinariness of our times … Modernity itself is, apparently, a way of charging the Now with special significance.
Second, from Nassim Taleb:
Modernity corresponds to the systematic extraction of humans from their randomness-laden ecology. … It is rather the spirit of an age marked by rationalization (naive rationalism), the idea that society is understandable, hence must be designed, by humans. With it was born statistical theory, hence the beastly bell curve. So was linear science. So was the notion of “efficiency” — or optimization.
Modernity is a Procrustean bed, good or bad — a reduction of humans to what appears to be efficient and useful. Some aspects of it work: Procrustean beds are not all negative reductions. Some may be beneficial, those these are rare.