Annalee Newitz tries to figure out why we love steampunk:
I think the popularity of steampunk also expresses our collective yearning for an era when information technology was in its infancy and could have gone anywhere. In 1880 we hadn't yet laid the cables for a telephone network, and computer programming was just an idea in Ada Lovelace's head. Nineteenth-century technology was often operated by factory laborers, and it meant backbreaking work and the ruination of healthy bodies. Information technology, to the 19th-century mind, would be something that set us free from brutal assembly lines.
One hundred years later, I wish it were so. Information technology has its own brutal assembly lines, mind-numbing data work that cripples our fingers with repetitive strain injuries and mangles our backs with the hunched postures required to work at a computer all day long. Seen from this perspective, steampunk is an aesthetic that tells the truth about us. We are no better off than our Victorian ancestors, bumbling into the future with crude technologies whose implications we barely understand. But let's make our devices pretty, at least. Let's remember the days when the machines that now cage us promised liberation.
See also: What steampunk means