Monday, September 6, 2010

Rushing Headlong Into...... .... something?

Telegraph. Telegrams.
Telephone. Local and Long Distance.
Radio. Fireside Chats, Top 40, Morning Weather.
Televison. Evening News, Gunsmoke, 60 Minutes.
Modems. Compuserve.
Internet. E-Mail. America Online. Prodigy.
Cable News. Fox News.
Cell phones. Texting.
eBay, Friendster, Livejournal, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter,
On your phone.
Wikileaks, Gret Firewall of China, Net Neutrality, Foursquare, Places,

Is it me, or are we racing headlong into the darkness here? I am no luddite, I've been racing right along with everyone. The pace with which things are advancing has been increasing rapidly for centuries, and now it is a blur of advances. Nothing can be secret, wars are televised, private lives are made public, not by big brother, but by ourselves. A whole generation is coming of age to whom privacy is something that my generation would not recognize. It is changing so fast, they too will not recognize it in five years.

It's good, technological progress. But just like a pair of lovers in a whirlwind romance, I think things are moving too fast. See, we need time apart from progress. Humanity needs time to adapt. Our social norms have nothing to fit the situations we're heading toward. Things might turn out just fine - but at this pace we don't know. Already our laws are straining under the burden.

One example, other than privacy, is intellectual property. These laws, patents and copyright, have been extended many times in the latter part of the 20th century. They now cover many decades. What was designed to protect an artist or inventor's livelihood, and then expire in the name of the public good, now never reaches the "public good" while it is still timely, yet there are systems in place that could do just that better than ever. Information is still guarded closely when it could be as free as water.

I envision a land of crystal clear lakes and springs, overflowing with milk and honey in such abundance than none should go without. Yet in this land, warlords who recall less plentiful times continue to fence the springs and warehouse the milk and honey, while doling it out only to a select few. The only costs are harvesting and storage, they say, yet they will not allow anyone to harvest or store it for themselves.

That is the way information today is horded. It can be information that in reality belongs to nobody, but because it exists, it is horded. Dictionaries. Textbooks. Scientific papers. These things cost money to produce initially, but once produced, reproduction can be done freely. Every doctor in the entire world could have access to the latest in medical journal advancements. Yet they don't.

Solitude is a rarity for many now. We are never out of touch. We always are a phonecall away, at a moment's notice. Whether that means work calling, or the security of hiking a dangerous trail knowing you can simply call for rescue if you slip, or driving cross-country without having to plan ahead, we're always in touch and informed. Never out of the loop. Yet haven't we as a race for millions of years always valued our "out of the loop" time? What will we become when the information is even closer to us and more saturated than it is now?

What, indeed? I wish I knew. All I know is I feel that we need a break from progress. Just some time apart to sort things out. Of course, progress doesn't work that way. So here's toward our headlong rush into... something.

Arthur C. Clarke on the Future of Communication ... 46 years ago.

In 1964, the world was worried about how close the hand was till midnight on nuclear holocaust. Race was still a heated topic in the U.S., and Vietnam was just getting started.

Yet, futurists envisioned good things for the coming decades. Science had already given the world of the 1960s wonders never before seen. Cars were ubiquitous, cities on scales never before imagined, telephones and television, the future seemed limitless. Many predictions failed to pass but others were right on target. In many cases, the technological advance came to be, but how we as a people adapted to the advance (and are still adapting) is completely different than anyone had expected.

Watching vintage video predicting the future can serve as both a warning to those who try now to do so that we will be completely wrong on most points, and an inspiration that we may get it right on a few. But without looking forward to what can be we will never reach it.

At about 3:50 in this video, Arthur C. Clarke is interviewed about his views of the future. He gets some parts right, and wow, does he get some wrong. But, did he get it wrong, or is his timing just off by a few decades?

via Retro Futurism.