The popularity of [Rube Goldberg’s] inventions series closely parallels the rise of electrification in America. In 1925, depending on where you lived, … power was receding into the walls. The world lost a little explicability. People like to complain that they can’t understand modern cars because of all the fancy parts and electronic doo-dads in them now, but we lost that ability for most things long ago. I think Goldberg’s drawings reminded his contemporaries of a time when they could understand the world’s industrial processes just by looking. No matter how absurd his work was, anyone could trace the reactions involved. They were open to inspection, transparent… Now, you no longer even have to think about where the energy you use comes from. You can forget that your laptop is really plugged into a network of magnets being pushed around by steam created by the heat of burned fossil fuels or the fissioning of atoms.
Rube Goldberg and the Irreducible Strangeness of Electricity – Alexis Madrigal – Technology – The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/09/rube-goldberg-and-the-irreducible-strangeness-of-electricity/63537/