Well, we’re finally here. The future. Sort of. At the very least, we’re in the future where my younger, eight-year old self though would be the future. It’s not what I thought it would be in most respects, but the future is so rarely what we think it will be. Sci-fi and speculative fiction authors have been dreaming up our futures, but rarely do they hit anything solidly on the nose. Were we to listen to Bradbury we’d be taking rocket jaunts to Mars or driving cars that casually cruise at one hundred seventy miles per hour. More often than not we get the dystopian futures of the cyberpunk classicists, though we don’t seem to have the substance that seems to ooze from the chrome and neon of those worlds either, nor the man-machine interface to make us gods and ghosts in the machine. Most often, the future is working in a fabric and aluminum box and having kids. The experience varies, as do the number of kids, but for most people, I think that’s how it ends up.
But, there’s always new facets. The fantastic is around, but we discount it. When I pick up my iPad and do, well, just about anything on it, I am living in the future of my childhood. When I buy tickets for a concert on a computer, I’m living in that future. When I sit in our meeting room and look at people remotely in another city’s field office, I am living in the future. Flying cars? Frighteningly dangerous. Cybernetics? They’re crude, not streamlined and highly experimental – but here. Living in the stars? For the select few in superpower governments who can pass the physical to become an astronaut – but don’t count on it.
The future doesn’t have to be flashy; it just has to be here. It seems we push the limits of human knowledge daily, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. The new technologies simply seem to apply to the same old games. When someone makes some cyber-innovation, we turn it towards our human staples: commerce, social awareness and, most overwhelmingly, pornography (See the third quote down concerning when man first created fire). Same for any other technology really.
We’re not interested in making new things to explore new ways of life or to better society or civilization so much as we’re interested in making old things better by adding new depth and cobbling together new features. No one is looking to rock the boat – particularly not our corporate masters who love to remain on top – but to enforce the status quo by controlling the new technology. Look at all of the hot-button tech issues that the techno-savvy are concerned with: on-demand entertainment, DRM, anti-piracy, net neutrality. All of this is an outgrowth of existing technologies being advanced to keep things the way they’ve always been. There’s always a fringe working out ways around the system – and this fringe even produces success on occasion that work for a while – but the future is always guided by the hand of the present and the ideas of the past. In this aspect, living in the future kind of sucks.
Paints a kind of darker picture, doesn’t it? It’s certainly not the future in which men were liberated from suffering and in which science conquers society’s ills as many of the the early sci-fi authors hoped it would be. In a myopic world that focuses on the powerful staying in charge and the everyman beset by technological advances that both enlighten and ensnare in equal measure, is there hope for living in the future? One hopes so.
The technology of the past two decades have led to white hats and black hats hitting each other as hard as they can, with grey hats in the middle trying to make those new niches quickly and quietly enough to become one of the bigger players. Sometimes those ambitious techno-wizards become something great, and sometimes they become something terrible. And that’s actually a good thing. It’s the savvy few that are pushing things around, keeping the old guard busy. At the base of every solid structure, there are weeds growing out of the concrete that simply refuse to die. Sometimes the weeds grow into the structure only to be subsumed and made a part of the old guard, but sometimes – once in a great while – the weeds come to compromise the foundations, cracking the concrete and making room to displace what is.
Much like when humankind created guns, the technology of the future is here to stay until we find a way to reset our world (which is becoming more and more frighteningly possible). You can’t put genies back in their bottles, nor can you make technology or the future go away.
We’re living in the future. I hope you like it. Because it’s the one we got. And it’s the bed we’ve made for ourselves.