Part 3 – The Distant Future
If you’ve read the series up to this point, thank you. I have a small audience that will hear my thoughts and it means a lot to me because this is my passion. Our relationship with technology, the internet, and how the future may play out is so very interesting, and also so very important.
In part 2 I intentionally explored the dark side of technology so that in this finale of the series I could explore the bright side – It’s a new year and I want you to have a new outlook to keep you positive and motivated in 2014. I hope that when you’re done reading this, you share the fierce optimism I have for the future. Let me first explain why I have that optimism.
I am very optimistic about the future because of a simple belief – That there is a story unfolding. A narrative. Human beings love narratives, it’s how we learn and make sense of the world. The story of mankind is one in which there have many ups and downs, battles fought, blood shed, and so on, but we now live in a world that is smaller, more interconnected, and more ripe for love than ever before. I refuse to believe that the story will have a bad ending because it would make our lives (and the lives of every human being that’s ever lived) meaningless. Those are the kind of movies where the credits roll and you go “That’s it? That was it??? I want my money back”.
We get to decide the outcome of the story because we’re the ones writing it. And we all love good endings. We all want to beat the bad guys and ride off in to the sunset with our loved ones. As romanticized as that may seem, it’s completely logical. A belief in the story is also a belief in destiny – That we are moving towards some goal. There may be some bumps in the road on the way, but that’s what makes stories good!
Humanistic Information Economy
In Part 2 I discussed the problems associated with the current advertising-based “free information” model of the internet. Now it’s time to discuss solutions. Bringing back the thoughts of Jaron Lanier again, what he proposes is a more “humanistic information economy”. It would be an economy built on the premise that if we value information so highly, we must also value the humans that the information comes from. What it equates to is actually paying for the services we use on the internet, BUT also being paid for the information we currently give away freely. It could actually create a win-win situation in which businesses still make profit, but the internet becomes much more of an economically-empowering medium for average people as well – It could actually support a middle class. The thousands and thousands of passionate people that currently freely give away great content on the internet (be it an Instagram about cooking, an educational resource website about fitness, or a Youtube channel about learning guitar, etc.) could actually make a living from it and create even better content – Instead of making chump change from ads which only serve to distract people from their content and pull them elsewhere. The humanistic information economy could be based on micropayments and accountability. Allow me to explain.
The current model of the internet is – “You can create content and share it with people freely but if you want to make any money from it we have to place annoying ads all over it, and it might barely cover your car payment every month IF you work your ass off AND get lucky”
This is really unfortunate because if your Youtube video that you put a lot of love and passion in to was watched and enjoyed by say 1,000,000 viewers, which isn’t that uncommon nowadays due to the viral nature of content, that means the information you created brought a huge amount of value to other people that was not accounted for. What Lanier proposes is a system of micropayments in which each of those people that watched the video may have given as little as $0.001 (Yes that’s 1/10 of a penny) to watch it – An almost negligible payment that would still equate to $1,000 for the person that created the content.
That’s beautiful, and completely fair. I’ll shell out a fraction of a cent (or a few cents) to learn how to play a particular song on guitar, or a new workout routine, or even just get a good laugh. What’s more, it would give me an economic incentive to create my own content to share to the world. I could share my passion, which might be design tutorials.
As this type of economy evolves, the exchange of ideas between people could be vastly accelerated due to the new economic incentive in exchanging ideas, exchanging information. THIS is what the internet was originally envisioned to be back in the 1960s Silicon Valley psychedelic scene – A medium through which to enlighten and unite the species by empowering each and every individual – Not a dehumanizing corporation-serving machine. The notion that “information wants to be free” was logical, but mistaken, because in practice it is literally wiping out the middle class and recreating the world of haves and have-nots that plagued most of human history.
The problem with everything being free on the internet now is that it devalues everything on the internet. Everybody expects everything to be free. And so the web may empower people to do all kinds of things and learn all kinds of things, but you can’t make a living from it. Who cares if you can play Mozart on piano if you can’t even pay your rent? Jobs are being eliminated due to automation and how efficient we’re becoming, but transitioning in to a more humanistic information economy with micropayments would counterbalance that. It would empower individual entrepreneurship and accelerate the exchange of ideas among individuals as opposed to empowering huge sociopathic corporations that leech wealth from society and no longer create any jobs.
It would also go hand-in-hand with a more sustainable, localized, agrarian form of capitalism that we absolutely MUST transition in to if we want to save our planet. We are currently far too inefficient, wasteful, and destructive, and it’s taking a toll on every ecosystem on the planet. Our separation from nature has gone on too long. It may even be the final step before we can finally discard “Capitalism”, “Socialism”, “Communism” and any other “ism” all together… And transition in to a…
This is based on the ideas of a Jacque Fresco, a futurist who is perhaps just too far ahead of his time. He has never gained widespread recognition because his ideas are so far out there and quickly dismissed as being unrealistic and “utopian”. He started something called The Venus Project and does beautiful concept art that you should definitely check out. The Venus Project involves what’s called a “Resource-Based Economy”.
It is based on the premise that technology in the future will be so advanced and efficient, we may be able to have a supply of resources that exceeds demand and creates abundance for all. In this type of system we would eliminate the need for money all together and resources would be distributed by computer algorithms based on human needs. I know that sounds like a utopian wet-dream, but it’s an entirely rational system to transition in to once we deal with all of the irrational issues we deal with currently like “My religion is better than yours”, and “We’re too ignorant to give our people rights”, and “We want nuclear weapons too, because we feel left out”, and “I want MORE money, even though I could buy several cruise ships and an island nation”.
The advantage of this system would be that all of the basic needs of humanity would be automatically accounted for, and any drudgery would be handled by machines, giving people vastly increased leisure time through which they could pursue their deepest passions instead of spending the majority of their waking hours struggling to make ends meet. Some of you reading this may be lucky enough to be doing what you’re truly passionate about for a living, but that is not a luxury that many people on this planet have. For many people their passion is merely a hobby, or something that gets pushed to the side, or something that gets neglected entirely, or something that is never even found in the first place.
The internet would play a role in this society in which it would take on many of the roles that were previously filled by government. This would not be an inept, polarized, and easily corruptible government, like the one we currently enjoy, but rather a very efficient artificially intelligent system that would be able to allocate resources based on actual human needs. These needs would be determined by personal informatics and ambient intelligence (ubiquitous computing), which would of course be far more sophisticated by the time a society like this would be feasible.
Again this sounds utopian, but it’s really not far fetched. Consider that even today, even this very MOMENT, we have the resources to provide every human being with food, water, and shelter. The reason that doesn’t happen is because we’re too locked in to all of these outdated systems and ideologies – The political boundaries that are basically arbitrary. The religious differences that are trivial. The economic systems that are overly Darwinian and alienating. Once we get past these we will start to realize how attainable something like this actually is.
What WE Will Become
With all this talk of changes to our economic, political, and social systems, let us know divert out attention to ourselves, and what changes technology and the web can do for us as individuals.
There are typically mixed emotions when someone brings up the word “cyborg”. It stands for “cybernetic organism” and many associate cyborgs with science fiction stories like Terminator and Blade Runner – Frightening machines made of metal with uncannily human exteriors. There are certainly groups of people, some might call themselves transhumanists, that believe our destiny is to become cyborgs. They believe that by doing so we can become immortal, omnipotent, and even evolve in to a posthuman species. If that scares you, it’s understandable, but consider this – we already are cyborgs by definition.
In the book Natural Born Cyborgs, written by philosopher and cognitive scientist Andy Clark, it discusses the fact that human beings were designed to have a special symbiotic relationship with technology and that this relationship makes us cyborgs – without having to become scary metal robots. No invasive changes to the body are even necessary (or even desirable, in most cases). It is actually the external relationships with our tools in our environment that make it so.
Consider this – When you drive your car, a big piece of machinery that gets you from point A to point B, you in some sense become the car. By that, I mean your conscious awareness extends beyond the physical body and begins to encompass the car itself. Don’t believe me? What would you say if someone was about to crash in to your car? “They’re going to hit me!” Keyword there being “me”. You associated yourself with the technology you’re using. If a collision did happen you might even feel emotional pain looking at the damage to your car – An inanimate object, but one which you’ve forged a special symbiotic relationship with.
This actually happens all of the time with our technology. It always has. We forge special relationships with our tools and they become part of us. A very good musician may play the guitar and lose himself in the instrument – In some sense merging with it and expressing unfiltered emotion through it. These are the kinds of ideal relationships we want to create with our technology, relationships that extend our abilities and make us better without getting in the way of who we are.
With that being said, the internet, the web, is as much a part of us as we are a part of it. We are forming a symbiotic relationship with it. That is why the internet truly is, in more than just a philosophical sense, a reflection of humanity. A “hive-mind” that shares our dreams, our hopes, our fears, and so on. It is both our creation, and it is creating us. Do not fear this technology, it’s simply an extension of who we are. It shares our imperfections.
Further Down the Rabbit Hole
I know I talk about the move The Matrix a lot, but it’s because the film is so groundbreaking and ahead of it’s time. It depicts a sophisticated, hyper-realistic, virtual reality that was originally designed by humans – But we became lost in it. This single film is perhaps one of the greatest warning signs about the future ever created. It is about a techno-centric world instead of a human-centered one, a world in which we worshiped technology rather than our own humanity and because of that we lost our humanity. We fell in to the deep, deep, sleep of maya – Illusion.
The virtual reality that is the Matrix is not unlikely. Consider that the revolutions in ubiquitous computing and personal informatics will lead to unprecedented amounts of information being gathered about ourselves and our environment. Where do you think that seem to be leading? Consider that reality IS information. Not to demystify the world – It doesn’t make any less sublime or beautiful, but it’s the truth. We are information, and we are very adept at processing information via our senses. As we gather more and more and more information, and understand our world better and better, we will be able to create increasingly sophisticated and immersive simulations of reality – which again, is just information. We have to think deeply about what these simulations can do for us, what they can teach us.
Computer graphics are becoming extremely realistic, and I don’t know about you but I’m growing tired of violence in video games. We have to move away from simulations like GTA5 in which you play the role of a crime lord – and create ones that are more noble. Simulations that teach you things, that can make you a better person, simulations that enlighten you. I think we will start to see that more often in the future. Imagine a hyper-realistic game in which YOU learn and grow and become better, rather than some character you’re playing as.
Who knows, maybe that’s what you’re playing right now…
On this day, 51 years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. was born. His famous “I have a dream” speech was about more than just race, an arbitrary classification of people that has caused great misery in the world, it was about freedom. It was about adhering to principles like “all men are created equal”. That dream still lives on. And that battle is still being fought. The battle ground is the internet, believe it or not. If we do not all have the same freedom and rights to use the web, and if our information is not valued and protected, we will never break free from the vicious cycle of tyranny and centralization of power that has always plagued us. If it’s not corrupt religious institutions, it will be corrupt government, if it’s not corrupt government, it will be corrupt corporations.
Anyone that has access to information that other people do not have access to, has power over them. It’s always been this way, well before the internet, well before the “Information Age”.
The Illusion of Separation
With all of this talk of technology and the web, let me wrap it all up in this final conclusion and bring home this very important point – If technology does not serve us, human beings, it should be discarded. That is my call to action for 2014. One of the biggest problems we face, especially in the modern world, is the deteriorating relationships we have with other people and with nature. It’s also the systems and constructs we’ve become locked in to that no longer serve us, but we desperately still cling to because it’s all we’ve ever known. It is the creeping feeling that we are losing our humanity, that we are placing technology above us. What we must realize is that the story is about us. If technology does not serve us, it does not belong in the story.
There are a lot of cynical and pessimistic people in this world, people that perhaps watch the news too often. These people look at the world’s problems, but don’t believe in the overarching story. They do not value the intrinsically good nature of humanity. They don’t realize that a human being born under the right conditions, that is loved and has all his/her needs met, has almost boundless potential – Every human being is a renaissance man/woman in the making. They also fail to realize how far we’ve come already – and how far we can still go, towards making the world a better place.
What’s more – Time-space compression is helping us break through the illusion of separation – That we are all separate beings, living in our own bubbles, our own constructions of reality. I have optimism that technology can play a role in breaking through this illusion. We are going further down the rabbit hole of technology in order to understand ourselves. Perhaps then we will finally become one with the universe again – Become love. The so-called “Fall of Man” will have played itself out.
So perhaps the internet can really expedite that process – Towards collective enlightenment. Waking up to the greater reality we all share, independent of these illusory constructs we’ve become so accustomed to. Enlightenment isn’t about gaining something, it’s about losing something. Losing all of these ideas in our heads that get in the way of our love and keep us separated. I believe that THIS is the most rational and noble goal for mankind, and every other goal should be planned with this goal in mind. It is then, and only then, that we can truly reach for the stars my friends.
There may be some rough patches ahead, and there may be periods where it seems all hope is lost, but every good story has some suspense doesn’t it?
Believe in the story, believe in good endings, and have a wonderful 2014.
The Venus Project