Sorry Casey, Still No Flying Cars

This article by Charlie Stross is making its way through the interweb. Like some of the research I am working on Stross argues that the "progress" of the future won't concern processing power, software engineering, or even (Other help us) internet governance (which I assume includes front end and back end web design). Stross:

All of this is irrelevant. Because computers and microprocessors aren't the future. They're yesterday's future, and tomorrow will be about something else.

The future, argues Stross, lies in the often overlooked rise of "bandwidth" (and Stross defines this term broadly as the speed and capacity to transfer information--from an airliner shipping DVDs to the hard cable feeding my digital cable). Looking at this bandwidth increase, Stross imagines an archived future--every minute of every day of every person on the planet; a completely searchable human archive: as he puts it "think of it as google for real life." Of course, such an archive risks abuse--and Stross is quite concerned for the types of abuse on the horizon. But also, this future is rife with possibility:

And with ubiquitous lifelogs, and the internet, and attempts at providing a unified interface to all interesting information — wikipedia, let's say — we're going to give future historians a chance to build an annotated, comprehensive history of the entire human race. Charting the relationships and interactions between everyone who's ever lived since the dawn of history — or at least, the dawn of the new kind of history that is about to be born this century.

Total history — a term I'd like to coin, by analogy to total war — is something we haven't experienced yet. I'm really not sure what its implications are, but then, I'm one of the odd primitive shadows just visible at one edge of the archive: I expect to live long enough to be lifelogging, but my first forty or fifty years are going to be very poorly documented, mere gigabytes of text and audio to document decades of experience. What I can be fairly sure of is that our descendants' relationship with their history is going to be very different from our own, because they will be able to see it with a level of depth and clarity that nobody has ever experienced before.

As a Levinasian, I hope the depth of total history actually resists totality--by exposing us not only to similarities, but to differences. To expose ourselves before the machinations (human and computer) without a presumption of synthesis, but rather with a nod toward complexity. Such an exposure, however, must be cultivated. And therein lies the rub, since "cultivate" is a secular humanist term for "indoctrinate." But I'd like to think that I choose my symbolic violences wisely.

For those down with the "blogging" syllabus, this might be an interesting article for discussion early on: why should English classes deal with blogging? Because sharing information is "the way of the future." And it deserves critical attention--not only in terms of invention, but also in terms of ethics.

1 comment:

Casey said...

I've thought of this... this databasing of everything. It's weird. On one hand, it seems like digital salvation: "I will never be forgotten!"

On the other hand, it seems creepy. PLUS, even the pyramids are crumbling, right?--a "total history" would eventually be lost... eternity is a long time. It's the kind of vanity that conflates fame and eternity, I think...

But still, why don't we start the website? It would be like this: you pay a lifetime-plus fee of $200.00 and you get a picture, up to 100,000 words of text, 10 mins. of audio clip, and 5 mins. of video clip. That would be your "page" in the history of humankind... and you could edit and rearrange it right up until you died, at which point your page would be "locked" into place and put into the archives, where it would be accessible to countless generations of future scholars and geneaologists.