segunda-feira, setembro 15, 1997

Techno-Dystopia: "Idoru" by William Gibson



I think it's very telling - and promising, that this guy who thinks he can predict an apocalyptic future for Earth where 80% of people are killed has had at least the first part of his dystopian fantasy fall at the first hurdle. Just because you got it right on a few obvious ones - Cyberspace, virtual reality, reality TV, etc., doesn't guarantee that kind of thinking is going to take you much further. The future is a lot less SF than people think. If you want my prediction (you don’t), we can expect a future that is less technology focused and more experience focused. Experience is ultimately what we look to technology to deliver to us in the first place, and technology is a vital part of delivering to us pleasurable, desirable and vital experiences, but it also has the power to take away our potential to experience as well, and it does so slowly and incrementally in a way that we don't spot, but we can always break out of that cycle. It's hard to break from that cycle as an individual, easier to do it as a group, and easiest still where the cultural hubs and establishment instruments of your country come to understand the need to make such a break, and move to facilitate it, The latter point is the seemingly insurmountable obstacle, because you can't get people to act or vote against what they see to be their best interests, and the strength of human development energy and potential that is driven towards the techno-dystopia predicted by Gibson is vast and all-encompassing, but it can be overcome with the correct approach.

One thing that humans excel at, and for which we require no technological assistance whatsoever (although a modicum of it certainly helps), is creating experiences. There's very little we do better, and very little we enjoy better, than creating experiences for ourselves and one another, than employing our imagination to turn something of low intrinsic value into something of infinite intrinsic value. The best works of literature can be, and indeed some of them were, written by people with nothing but their passion, drive and creativity. Even of those without widely recognised talents and skills, everyone has the capacity at the bare minimum to make themselves and others in their lives happy through their attitudes and relationships with one another. Simple and consistent acts of kindness and care to one another can produce a greater experience than any piece of technology. This is not an anti-tech Luddite argument by any means either.


There are technologies, often placed beyond the reach of the individual, not for economic reasons but for behavioural ones, because of what it would mean for the world if they were to penetrate the mainstream in any meaningful sense. There exist, already today, and more so in the minds of innovators and potential innovators, technologies so brilliant and so powerful, that we practically - and sometimes literally - forbid ourselves from using them because of what the dire implications of doing so recklessly would be. We forbid ourselves these technologies for the same reasons that we forbid ourselves the use of nuclear and chemical weapons, of psychotropic drugs, and in most civilised countries, guns. These are technologies - present and theoretical - which if abused or misused have the potential to make things worse, not better, but if used responsibly and treated with the proportionate degree of care and respect that all dangerous technology deserves, they may be utilised to the great benefit of all. Consider this as a simple, hypothetical example: For somewhere in the region of 1000 Euros, I could construct an entertainment system - of PA speakers and subwoofers, mixing desks for bands and record decks for DJs, capable of meaningfully serving the needs of a thousand people, a thousand times over, for 10 hours at a time. So 0.001 Euros per person or 0.0001 per hour of use. Of course electricity supply has to be factored in, but for a high efficiency 5,000 Watt peak system, after fairly averaging out the real world power levels (average levels), we're not looking at more than 6 kilowatt hours for the event, so about a quid's worth of electric for those 1000 people, for 10 hours. Gibson is great at hypothesizing all this in novel form.