Kern, Stephen. The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1910. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1983.
Kern proposes that the essence of the twentieth century is simultaneity -- and then crosses that time period and that hypothesis in a variety of ways. He groups fin de siecle scientists, artists and writers around the questions of time, space, distance and war.
Kern describes the newly fragmented and layered nature of time (past, present and future), citing Proust and Joyce as major artists who emphasize or even create the notion of a personal experience of time. While this personalization was being created, however, the standardization of time zones was also taking effect, and soldiers and workers were being drilled in a public time which governed their actions. Time became at once highly individual and publicly regimented. The geologic past opened up; European countries embarked on the effort to preserve their historic past; memory became crucially important to individual identity; nevertheless, culture became, by the turn of the century, wired and connected, present- and future- oriented more than past-oriented. The public and lightning-swift reaction to the sinking of the Titanic was a moment possible only in the twentieth century.
The bicycle, the railroad and the cinema all contributed to the freeing, frightening sensation of speed. Large ocean liners pursued record goals for ocean crossings and trains ran faster each year. Small fragments of time began to be significant -- minutes and seconds were possible to be "used" as people passed on bicycles. Just as strategy consultants were a logical investment for twenty-first century corporate behemoths, so too, time and motion studies were financially logical to the immense factories of the twentieth century; even the grammar of English was stripped down so as to be transmitted speedily over the telegraph wire.
Space (understood as form, distance and direction) was intimate, immediate, classless, uncertain. Einstein's theories unsettled the notion of space as a single-perspective experience, and painters explored multiple views and non-representational forms. For the person who could afford to travel, railroads began to blur the distances and views that travelers had long known at a steady 5 miles per hour. Even more than railroads, telephones bridged formerly unsurpassable distances and fundamentally changed the way business and war could be thought about and conducted. It was, however, airplanes that permanently fractured the old vision of earth by adding a third dimension to all landscapes, especially those spaces which could not ever before have been seen from a height.
Kern finishes his challengingly comprehensive overview by weaving his understandings of these categories into the key event of that time period, wire-crossed, gruesomely fast, mud-mired World War I. He notes that the diplomats of the period were unable to react in the time periods made possible by telephone and wire; that generals were chosen rather for their ability to orchestrate at a distance than for their inspiring courage on the front, and that the soldier, carried by precisely timed trains, became a cog in a war machine. He concludes that the telephone, as it criss-crossed Europe and the Atlantic, represented simultaneity, and was the defining invention of the twentieth century.