iPhone meets time machine: Steampunk invades Seattle

Posted by Lydia Leavitt

Like peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, or Ike and Tina, Steampunk is another classic combination of Victorian era Britain and elements of futuristic science fiction.

A craze where high-tech machines are modded based on Victorian perspective - Steampunk is a world where the iPhone meets moving-parts steam technology.

Dressed in their best Victorian garb, and armed with a bevy of techy toys like cell phones and cameras, over 1,700 steampunk connoisseurs gathered in Seattle over the weekend to celebrate all things steampunk at the second annual Steamcon.

This year's theme? Weird Weird West.

The craze over all things steampunk began when author K.W. Jeter released a book called "The Time Machine," a story that chronicled a trip back in time to 1890s London.

In a time where steam power was primarily used, the works of steampunk are often exhibited through futuristic innovations (think cell phone or computer) made in the style and with the materials that someone in Victorian Britain may have envisioned it.

Steamcon co-founder Diana Vick, a Seattle illustrator and greeting-card designer, described steampunk as "Victorian science-fiction," and added "we want to go back to when technology was ornate and interesting and understandable."

Science fiction author Scott Westerfeld says "Steampunk is like a snapshot from the last moment in human history when technology was intelligible to the layman. The Internet is global and seemingly omniscient."

Westerfield then described iPods and phones as "microscopic workings encased in plastic blobjects."

"Compare that to a steam engine, where you can watch the pistons move and feel the heat of its boilers. I think we miss that visceral appeal of the machine. Plus, those Victorians dressed a lot better than we do," he says.

The steampunk movement extends beyond modding the newest gadgets, which can be seen in the Steamcon schedule: an itinarary that includes everything from high tea to panels on blogging and I, Robot.

To embody the mindset of Victorian Britain, steampunk events emphasize art, etiquette, and fashion while combining them with the high tech tools of the future.

Perhaps there’s something to be said about the intimacy and care of yesteryear’s technology.

But would I trade my iPhone for a wind-up time piece? Probably not.

At least I have a whole year to think about it, while breaking in the driving goggles, pressing the pantaloons, and potentially parting with my iPhone, until next year’s Steamcon event.