Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Not now, son; I'm doing SCIENCE!

2010 is here, and yet the future is nowhere in sight.

Where is my jetpack?

You know as well as I that this is a ridiculous sort of sentiment, yet let's examine it for a minute. This isn't something I say idly because when the clock struck midnight on the 31st/1st, all the cars on Waikiki beach didn't take flight; this is something that I feel deeply and truthfully. I don't really feel like I'm living in 2010 because, frankly, I was promised better than this. Now, it's easy enough to say where the ideas I have about the future come from, ie. Science Fiction, probably the 1950s in particular. Where, however, does this wacky teleological view of history come from, the idea that our world exists more or less to create the flying automobile and Jetsonian megalopolis? Doesn't a fixed view of the future undermine entirely the sense of wonder at the future which futurism works so hard to create? There can be merit in making particular predictions about the future, the people and objects that we will encounter someday, but the purpose of such speculation is to open the mind to the manifold possibilities available, not tie them down to one vision of what our lives are going to look like in a decade or a century's time! So why the idea that we need jetpacks and flying cars? I might wonder if I'm the only one who actually believes such, but all I need do to discredit this angle is look at the cover of Popular Science. Which is incidentally something else which bears a certain amount of consideration: look at the marvellous inventions foretold on every sensational cover of that magazine, and I bet you'll find that an easy 50% never came to any kind of fruition. What is that like for a reading public and an editorial staff, to form this culture of the never-will-be, all blue-balled over domestic robots they'll never get to use and fusion power that's always fifty years away (if you'll forgive the puerile metaphor)? Is it maybe strangely gratifying to be wrong all the time, so that the future is still an adventure (for imagine just how agonizing it would be to watch progress that you had already predicted occurring in real-time!)?

And there it is: why on Earth would we WANT to have been right about the future? Sure, it's frustrating that cars don't fly, but at this point it's probably better that they never do, because it would be pretty disappointing for it to have taken us so long just to do something we'd already been daydreaming about for half a century or more. I figure you've probably imagined your 10 best things to do in a flying car, so you'd do them and then you'd be bored. Well, ok you'd have a flying car and at the age that my peers and I are, a car is pretty neat, but the imaginary spark is all but dead, I figure. So: why can't I shake the notion that since it's 2010, I should see cars flying all over the place, or that I should be vacationing in a hotel at Earth-Moon L-1, or that the stove should be talking to me? The closest thing to an answer that I've come up with so far is that in some cases - ie. cures for various forms of cancer - the apathetic sort of "I'll take the future as it comes" attitude seems callous. The waiting is painful, but that's no reason to give up on waiting for still-better crops (although with the advent of terminator seeds we are now in the unenviable position of watching a procession of worse and worse crops). This is hardly as defensible a mindset when it comes to luxury items, but even something so ostensibly frivolous as manned space travel can be crucial to securing a real future for humankind, one better than a plackard in an alien museum of archaeology. Then these are primarily political opinions, voiced in the form "I wish we could invent x so that y part of the human condition would no longer afflict us and we could have utopia.". The flying car and the jetpack are perhaps then expressions of desire for a world in which personal transportation affords the individual new freedoms and power over his or her environment. And indeed, what vehicle could be more personal than the jetpack. Sadly, the golden age of the automobile (at least in North America) is back in the '50s and '60s along with the rest of our quaint ideas about the future. Would the flying car or jetpack ignite a raygun-renaissance, or have our passions changed too much from when we first dreampt these things?

This talk of the future makes for an easy segue into a New Year's resolution which I am considering: be more transhuman this year.

Are you quite finished laughing yet?

Again, I'm thinking over what it would mean in this day and age to pursue a transhumanist lifestyle without a great many of the innovations required. Do I join some online community of the aspiring H+? That's a little like the converted signing up to be preached to, in some ways. I was thinking that I might start by actually participating in some online communities, but I dunno if that's really being "transhuman". I guess the socialite who magnifies the power of his or her gossip a thousandfold with the internet is certainly, uh, augmented by technology, but now we're back to something akin to the cyborg debate in my last post: sure it might technically qualify, but it lacks the cool factor which is - I would argue - a more relevant barometer to most people when you throw around terminology from the future. Now, building an augmented reality rig to wear in daily life? Now that's something! The tech is most certainly out there, and it seems to be getting cheaper (I saw a set of video-glasses for under $300 in an online store, and while they were pitifully low-res you could use them with anything from a laptop to an iPhone). If just about everything I do filters through a layer of technology before it gets to me, that's pretty trans-human, right? Of course, this is a pretty expensive resolution, and by no accident would involve the purchase of plenty of lusted-after tech gear. Despite the commercialization of just about every holiday, I'm not sure if "buy myself better" is a legitimate resolution for this - or any - new year. Without money, however, I'm left without the (more portable) tech that I'm supposed to be merging with to become greater than human, and so this is one resolution I may have to scrap. Still, suggestions welcome!

More thoughts on 2010 and pictures from my vacation in Hawaii still to come!


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