THE PRESENT FUTURE
A JOHO-ette Special Issue
You'd think I'd learned my lesson by now. I thought I'd invite Chris "RageBoy" Locke to do a joint issue in which we both go out on some limbs with predictions of the future. So, I wrote my modestly sarcastic piece and appended some earnest (one might say flat-footed) predictions.
What a set up! RB of course did not respond with his own earnest (one might say flat-footed) predictions but with a scathingly funny meta-commentary that out-everythings me ... out-writes, out-funnies, out-snarks, out-offends, out-cusses, out-rages.
In short, I made the mistake of thinking that RB knows the difference between collaborating and hijacking.
So, here's the result. My comments occupy the left margin. RB's are indented and in navy blue. I am not responsible for what RageBoy chooses to say (if "choose" is the right term for someone who seems to suffer from intellectual Tourette's Syndrome).
Enjoy. And learn from my example: If you're trying to stimulate some thoughtful conversation, don't choose someone whose middle name has "Rage," "Flame" or "Shiv" in it.
So, InfoWorld has published their big 20th anniversary issue and included a section called "Great Minds, Brilliant Visions" in which a dozen leading lights look into the crystal ball. (Truth be told, this is in a heavily disguised advertising supplement sponsored by CA, Dell, GTE, Lotus, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, NEC and Remedy.) So, what do these geniuses have to say?
Heal... oh wait. Wrong movie.
But before we get started, I want to say something about ground rules. Or axiom bases or whatever. And the first axiom of futurizing seems to be that you have to take The Future really seriously. It's no fair to say: Yeah, but grotesquely Malthusian overpopulation, hideous global depression and general racial-cleanisng-type intolerance are going to wipe our asses out so bad we'll be looking back on Windows 95 as representing some Golden Age when we could all sit around fucking with information instead of having to hunt rats for dinner. So let's try to be realistic here, OK?
Here are the "cut lines" InfoWorld saw fit to feature from each of the page-long articles devoted to these folks' Deep Thoughts:
"The Internet ultimately will impact our attitudes and way of life far more than it will impact IT." -- Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft
I know everyone talks this way now that we've all been leveraged by technology and all, but does anyone remember what being impacted really means? Let us turn to the New Shorter Oxford for elucidation, shall we?
1a Pressed closely in, firmly fixed.
b Med. Of faeces: wedged in the intestine. Of the intestine: blocked by hardened faeces.
c Med. Of a bone fracture: having the broken parts driven firmly together.
d Of a tooth: prevented from erupting by bone or another tooth.
So you see, whenever I hear that sort of trope I can't help but think *bad* thoughts. As if, in this case, the future held nothing more in store (as it were) than faeces wedged into an exceedingly uncomfortable bowel. Do we really *need* to go there, Nathan? ...and the answer of course is yes. Badly.
"We're heading toward the era of the wired planet, literally." Joel Birnbaum, HP
No, go on, that's interesting, really...
(Jesus, Mary and Joseph!)
"Tomorrow brings gigantic networks through which brilliant and unanticipated applications will 'convulse.'" Bob Martin, Lucent
This from the St. Vitus' Dance school of prognostication. You have to believe they did it better in the Middle Ages though, when due to some microbial rust in the rye flour, everybody was twitchin and-a shoutin alla time, literally. Now *those* were *visions*! But I guess maybe that was actually St. Anthony's Fire or the Bloody Flux of Lombardy or... sorry, what was the question?
"Computers will understand speech, natural language and gestures." Fred Pollack, Intel
Tell that to the kids in these chat rooms they've got now. All you can hear them saying all day and night is "Come again? Eh? Come again?"
"Just about anything that can be digitized, will be." Ken Jacobs, Oracle
Yeah? Well digitize this, motherfucker!
Actually, several millennia ago, Cicero would have instantly understood that flipping someone off was an entirely digital gesture. He was probably Being Digital with the Roman Senate before Old Nick's forebears had even made it down out of the olive trees.
"Friendly man-machine interfaces and agents will help humans and machines speak the same language." Russ Artzt, CA
"Bzzzt! Fart! Bzzzt! Fart!"
This would even pass the Turing Test, as given the incredible advances in digital sampling technology, it'd be impossible to know (without probing for sphincters) which one was actually, you know, Bzzzt-ing.
"Blocking data will be as important as accessing data." Greg Papadopoulos, Sun
Let's put Greg and Nathan into the Impactor!
"Choosing the right 'pipe' in a converged world could give everything the digital equivalent of an F-15." John Hart, 3Com
Talk about converged! I just *knew* the '60s would make a comeback. I remember rolling around on the floor for days on end trying to decide on the right pipe. So John, I'll see your F-15 and raise you an ounce of DMT!
"Computers will be embedded in almost everything, from cars to shoes to eyeglasses." Eric Harslem, Dell
To hell with friction-free capitalism. I want em in my underpants!
"Little things mean a lot. Like computer appliances." Nick Shelness, Lotus
Oh, Nick! That's just so *dear* of you to say!
"Computational power and man-machine interactions are in store." William Strecker, Compaq
Don't laugh! Sometimes the hardest thing for these guys to predict is what's been going on for the past 20 years.
Looking over this list of Exciting Visions for the future, what overall trends can we discern? What broad, societal implications can we draw? Simple: computer visionaries are far worse at envisioning futures than is your typical Grade-B science fiction writer whose books get turned into Keanu Reeves movies. I mean, buy a magic 8-ball, guys! Jeez, I haven't been this underwhelmed by a vision of the future since the 1964 World's Fair.
But why are you surprised David? The fact is, these bold leaders of men -- and one has to wonder, are there no women represented because of rampant corporate sexism, or because they said even *dumber* shit? -- just don't have to be very fleet of mind to impress their intended. Check out this bit an Astute EGR Reader passed along to me this week from...
Page down past all the crap about how "Criticism Beats Whining" (god I wish the press would stop writing that kind of stuff because it just makes me feel so bad and I start having the paranoia flashes again about how I'm not a good person and...) till you get to this little gem:
Current-Events IQ: Sixth Graders vs. Executives
1. What is a modem? Twenty-three percent of execs and 93 percent of sixth graders answered correctly.
2. What is an Arch Deluxe? Fifty-three percent of execs thought it was a computer part, while 98% of sixth graders correctly called it a McDonald’s sandwich.
3. Who owns the Internet? Sixty-eight percent of the execs thought it was owned by a corporation -- 23% said Microsoft -- whereas 98% of the sixth graders knew no one owned it.
Source: Volchuck Consulting via Newsweek
It's obvious from this (as if we really needed further evidence) that these InfoWorld "visionaries" are playing to the cheap seats in the first place. And what good reason would they have for trying harder -- even if they *were* capable of genuine thought?
Let's go out on some limbs and get to something a tad more startling than that speech recognition is on its way (i.e., you can buy it for $150 at Computers R Us) and toasters are going on line. In fact, to open this up for discussion, I've come up with four or five predictions that I think are riskier (less likely but expressed with conviction) and have invited my arch nemesis and the Official Scourge of JOHO, Chris "RageBoy" Locke, to contribute some of his own. And we invite you to jump into the fray via email ([email protected]).
Actually, I thought an Arch Nemesis was a computer part. But turning to your gracious invitation, I guess offhand I'd have to say I foresee the greatest revolution in open communications the world has ever seen being turned into a bloodthirsty halftime bacchanal of know-nothing jarheads amphetemized by non-stop advertising into berserker consumerism and wanton multi-level marketing campaigns. Cannibalism will inevitably be legalized, as will man-machine sex, for the same reason. Computers will become more outwardly pliable to accelerate the digital eutrophication of the human brainstem and the ultimate hegemony of User-Friendly Nurse-Avatars. These will be small enough to insert into the ear. Suffering and loneliness will quickly become no more than dimly remembered dreams.
Computing will become like writing -- a transforming capability independent of the technology that enables it (i.e., writing is writing whether you use a quill pen or a typewriter). Computing will become invisible, something we use without thinking about it. "ComputerWorld" will make as much sense as "WritingWorld" would.
Writing you say? Here's another thing I got today, sent by whoever wrote it to a friend at one of Our Great Universities. He was kind enough to share...
Her Spiritual father looking that she is very high level, and it is soo much for me to take even a Kiss.
Her mission cloth, Dress, she is looking to her life as a copy of her spiritual father, until it is better to talk to the Crimlin that to talk to Monika Lewinisky and Her Spiritual Father Matthew.
She always saying that Michael, is for who has got Money, and for the people in her Class, and if I tryed to talk, she puts Carl Marcous in between. Monika Said, I prefer Muhammed to operate every Christian who has not got money and want to talk to me.
How can I have Sex, How can I have even A Kiss, In this closed Monastery of Monika Lewinesky and her Spriritual Father.
Is it truly the case that the network makes psychotics like this more visible to the rest of us? Or could it be -- owing precisely to the type of corpulent corporate coprophagy quoted earlier -- that such people have simply become far less distinguishable from the average CEO?
Computers are dead. (Ah, but overstatement will live forever.) As computing becomes invisible, the thing on our desktop that we currently identify as a computer will go back to being a word processor, spreadsheet, data entry device, or whatever we use it for.
I won't presume to speak for the rest of them, but *my* computer is dead. I already know that. Yet I think into it all day long. Can this be altogether healthy? Perhaps if they became more like Sugar-Plum Fairies I would be more cheerful, less morose. It's something to think about.
The biggest near-term change in technology will be the availability of high-resolution displays anywhere we look. This may be accomplished in part by projection systems that turn surfaces into displays. It may also happen via highly portable virtual displays. But the ability to get rich data about everything and everyone in our environment, information sensitive to our position and context, will lead to the ubiquitous availability of a virtual world which includes not only data but real time communication. Sort of like living inside your telephone. Oh joy.
There are also, of course, biological possibilities here, such as cloning special free-living retinal cells that would eventually cover everything on the planet, much the way slime molds engulf their food. Then we could hook up this whole gelatinously distributed sensorium to a hellacious bank of superpowerful air-cooled Crays and -- on those rare occasions when we still bothered with the XXX chat rooms at all -- we could see just how far we'd come.
The fringe becomes the center. With the Web's return of individual voices in the corporate environment, the winners in the natural struggle for attention will be the exact opposite of those currently at the top of the food chain. The Web favors the obnoxious.
Here I have to disagree. Since the Neolithic period, human beings have largely evolved through, well, uh, leveraging technology. Thanks to all that, we have arrived at a cultural cusp, a crucial turning point where we can kill way more than we can eat in a single sitting. So I think the fridge has *already* become the center.
Tribalism returns. In the attention economy, people will say anything to get your attention. They'll yell fire in crowded theaters, they'll call themselves shitheads just so you won't turn the page, and they'll show up on Howard Stern impersonating naked lesbians if that's what it takes. So, you need a community of people you can trust, to one degree or another, to help filter out the views and attitudes you don't have time for. Tribes. Of course, these will be promiscuous tribes -- you'll belong to many of them and you'll change tribes at whim.
Yeah! Like Burning Man, man! And we'll all go naked and draw weird shit on the walls that we see on like organic drugs. And everything will be beautiful and we'll eat unrefined oatmeal instead of that nasty badgermeat.
But think... And think hard. Is this something for which we, as a people, as a nation, as a species, *really* want to aim? Might not it be better to let the pneumatic windbags have their little say and exit gracefully -- perhaps with a parting bullet to the head when nothing else will shut their yapping cakeholes?
I say, therefore, let us be firm, but just; sober, but full of mirth; deranged perhaps, but ever proud. Let us always remember where the future truly lies -- as surely as do those prevaricating bastard sods who lay ruin to our corporations and wreck to our very lives.
[...the exciting conclusion ...]
Damn straight, and I wouldn't change either word of it. Best line in the whole fuckin piece. However, I would like to take this opportunity to say a few final words on the ubiquity of the Invisible Hand these latter days in our affairs, to wit:
That deaf, dumb and blind kid...
Sure * Plays * A * Mean * Pinball!
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