What is good and important about steampunk

Nick Harkaway's essay "The Steampunk Movement is Good and Important" does a good job of answering charges that steampunk is cover for racism or colonialism, and does an even better job of explaining the attraction of steampunk technological visions to a modern artist:

Just as it would be tragic to ignore the advantages and consolations of the cognitive - and those who denigrate it in favour of a romanticised understanding of the instinctual or the mystical slander themselves - so equally it is idle and spurious to contend that we are cognitive entities riding around in bony control centres in our skulls, peeping out through windows in the face. We are not just brains with mobile life support. The emerging understanding of embodied cognition is the last nail in the coffin of that idea. We are bodies which think, and we’re at home with Steampunk because it is an ethos of design and creativity which acknowledges the humanly physical, that which we can understand with our fingers. It values our bounded selves, whose world is the middle earth between the flea and the horizon line in which objects obey Newton and relativity is barely more than an academic interest. It is a cognitively limited and incomplete sort of place. In terms of our senses, though, it’s all there is, and Steampunk is about being able to have the wonders of technology while still valuing, acknowledging and respecting that restricted view.

From that one central aspect of its identity, Steampunk mounts a challenge to grey-black plastic industrial design, to the faux-sanitised world of consumer technology and to techno-/neo-colonialism. It insistently re-makes technology as something friendly and even quasi-biological by producing things that owe more to Rube Goldberg than to the Filippo Marinetti-style “faster, harder” culture of Sony and Microsoft or the endless iterations of Apple and Samsung. The ethos admits of failure: Steampunk devices almost are not working properly if they don’t have leaks, if they don’t require maintenance and the occasional thump. That’s where they get character and animation, identities of their own which reflect their owners, while every iPhone can be seen as Apple’s endlessly replicated identity given passage into your every waking moment, a tiny and instantly replaceable cloned shopfront: what role is conferred or imposed by such a device on the person carrying it? It’s not that Jonathan Ive’s designs are poor, it’s that they are profoundly truthful: an iPhone is a vector, not an object, valued by its creator for its purpose and interchangeability, not individuality. Steampunk, on the other hand, repurposes, scavenges, remakes and embellishes in an arena where embellishment is seen as decadence, never mind the inherent decadence of creating the sheer amount of computing power our society now possesses in order that most of it should sit idle or be used for email and occasional games of Plants vs Zombies. Steampunk appeals to the idea of uniqueness, to the one-off item, while every mainstream consumer technology of recent years is about putting human beings into ever more granular, packageable and mass-produced identities so that they can be sold or sold to, perfectly mapped and understood.

The Steampunk Movement is Good and Important (via Kadrey!)