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Written in response to and posted as a part of this thread on the C-Realm forum on The Grow Report:


I read a short piece in Newsweek recently about how Apple's new tablet computer thingie will "reinvent computing" and how with it some indigo child of the post-iPod age "will be inventing a new language for telling stories."


And who knows? It may go that way. That would certainly be good news for me and my fellow "outside the mainstream mediocracy" podcasters, but I have lost my techno-Utopian religion.

Five years ago, I had DSL service in my home. Now, I use the wifi at the public library and I spend a LOT less time online than I did half a decade ago. I can imagine this being a temporary "setback," and I can also see it as an indicator of what's to come for a growing portion of "the Tribe" and as a decided improvement in the state of things.

John Horgan was telling me about a conversation that he had with an anti-terrorism think-tank wonk about how in five years the norm will be for everyone to be online all the time and that it will be extremely suspicious for anyone to be offline, just as now it is extremely suspicious for a person to leave their cell phone at home. The assumption of the authorities is that, since the GPS gear in your cell phone creates a continuous timeline of its (and presumably its owner's) movements, then the only reason to leave home without it is to avoid creating a record of your movements, and the only reason you would want to do that is because you are up to evil doings.

This is the panoptic dark side of the on-going collapse of the distinction between direct experience and electronically mediated experience. Things could go that way, but again, the faith of my younger years has wavered.

I think that in five years time most of us will still make use of the internet in some form. Some of us will continue sleep walking into the Panopticon and think that we're making "progress," and others will be spending more and more time "offline," and that doing so will both enrich our experience of life and make us personae non grata to those who occupy the top spots in the hierarchy.

I actually don't think that there is much danger of "the Internet" going away. "The Internet" (qua the global network of networks) existed for decades prior to the advent of MySpace, FaceBook, and free web-mail, and I suspect that some segment of the population will continue to make use of it come what may.

I can envision a time when the multi-media bells and whistles of the World Wide Web prove too expensive, impractical, and stunningly extravagant to maintain but in which Usenet, IRC, and similar text-based interfaces thrive and enable the functioning of far-flung "communities" that would otherwise not exist. It wouldn't pull the same audience as FaceBook and YouTube, but that might be for the best.

As I have slid increasingly into mnemonic and organizational impairment in recent years I have become ever more reliant on my Gmail inbox to serve as my prosthetic memory. As more people become reliant on the functions of "the Cloud," I can also imagine a time when the generous and civic-minded machines at Google might decide that if the service they provide to me is really "all that" then I shouldn't mind too terribly much if they asked me to fork over a few clams in exchange for searching the hundreds of thousands of messages in my inbox for all emails from Neal Kramer or that make mention of "the Singularity."

If that happens, a lot of people will add one more category of expenses to the list of things that they "have to" pay for each month... things that their parents and grandparents never imagined themselves using, much less "needing."

And some people will decide that they can do without the services of the Cloud. If the percentage of people who opt out is small enough, they will be ridiculed and considered kooks on the level of people who refuse certain types of medical care on religious grounds. If they are more numerous or if they opt out involuntarily due to deteriorating economic circumstances, then they may remain unacknowledged in the mainstream discourse, like the tens of millions of Americans who opt out of the annual income tax filing ritual. Whether they are ridiculed or not spoken of, they will be viewed with suspicion and antipathy by those who require a servile and predictable hoi polloi.

Most people reading this will be familiar with the life and work of Edward Bernays and his successors and with their decades-long project of blurring the distinction between wants and needs. Only in the scenarios that most resemble the fantasies of the techno-Utopians will this program continue its relentless conquest of the space of human concerns. In most of the futures I see as likely, the continuation of this program will fall into the category of endeavors that Jim Kunstler derides as "efforts to sustain the unsustainable."

In the coming years, I see more and more people regaining a working distinction between the conditions they need in order to live and enjoy a good quality of life and the objects and "services" which they have been duped into regarding as essential for the maintenance of a desired self-image and social status.

Whether by Flicker, or sneakernet, or semaphore flags, the people who opt out will find ways to communicate with each other and share the techniques they have learned for getting by without some of the so-called "essentials."

Much of what we fear will never come to pass, and much of what we fear will come to pass, and we'll discover ways to cope with it, learn from it, and live better because of it, in no small part because circumstances will force us to work with and depend upon the people close to us rather than paying anonymous and distant strangers for the things we genuinely need in order to survive.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Oct. 27th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
IMO, Horgan seems like an ignorant and arrogant twit. Neither Rational Mysticism nor The End of Science struck me as worth the paper.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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