Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Future of Futurism

I’m now more than 40 years old. Long ago I penetrated that cloud that some might call the generation gap, where things like pop sensations, the latest viral video, and other such stuff just don’t have that much meaning for me.

And to make things worse, I’ve started re-reading Ray Bradbury again (the optimistic spacey bits, not the pessimistic Martian Chronicles bits). Most notably, “The Rocket.”

I know it’s a rather pessimistically optimistic story – Fiorello Bodoni can’t afford to take his family on a  trip in a rocket – he can’t even afford to keep his junk recycling business afloat – but he spends his money on a non-functioning mock-up rocket and a bunch of other junk to take his children on a pretend voyage to Mars and back, so they won’t go through life with the disadvantage of never having been somewhere (Oh, by the way, if you’ve never read “The Rocket,” I should warn you: Spoiler alert).

I don’t want to grow too old for the future. Though, like Abe Simpson, sometimes I have to wonder if what’s it today is weird and scary, compared to what was it when I was younger.

So I read things like this (I read entirely too much).

And I have to laugh. Because for most of these “futuristic” concepts, there are clear arguments that the future is already here and has been here for a while. In fact, the future is, not to put too fine a point on it, already in the past.

Co-veillance, or the little man spying on the big guys? Already happening. Used to be it was through cranks going to the Fourth Estate. But we’ve had the Internet now for, what, twenty some-odd years, where the cranks have been able to avoid the middleman.

Technological unemployment? Man, that started with the Steam Age, the Machine Age, not the Computer Age. True, we may see more white-collar technological unemployment, but this isn’t exactly a futuristic concept, because we’ve seen white-collar unemployment blossom since, oh, the early 1990s.

Substrate autonomy? Already happening, dude. First with voice recordings, then film, now social media. It’s spread to the masses, yes, but to think transhumanism is something to fuss about in the future denies the fact that it’s already kinda happening. I’m writing this blog post because I want these thoughts to exist somewhere else besides this meatsack I’ve called home for the past 40 or so years. So we could claim transhumanism started with cuneiform and clay tablets. The Code of Hammurabi, not the digital person.
I could go on, but I won’t. Because I want this to be a positive thing.

It’s always coming back to what do we do with our time? What do we do with that cognitive surplus Clay Shirky identified so eloquently?

I’d rather we had Presentists, not Futurists. Because the future isn’t based on vocabulary or concepts or what thinkers think or writers write. It’s based on what we all do now. In the present. Does that make me a presentist? Not really, because I also have an eternal perspective on things that makes me want to do worthy, moral, and productive things now so that when the future becomes the present – which we know will happen no matter our philosophical position – that present will be better. And I will be better in it. But like St. Augustine, I do believe the present is the “knife-edge_ between the past and the future, where the lessons of the past are remembered or discarded, for the sake of a better or more lugubrious future.

That’s best captured by Phil Connors.

(And I love how the narrator says film in the old Hollywood way: “fillum.”

Once Phil figures out he can use the present and his activity in it to make for a better future, his present becomes much more livable.

That’s what the future needs: A thoughtful present.

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