The Future?…That Old Thing

 I was speaking at Futurefest today. Due to a change in schedule, I had to veto some of the things I was going to talk about, so I have written them up below. The project of trying to work out what I think my writing it down continues. 

The other afternoon, I was reading rather a good book about discordianism and the KLF. The author wrote of a Top of the Pops performance of Doctorin’ The Tardis and I wondered how his description stood up to reality. I put the song title and “top of the pops” into Youtube and, there we were. In a matter of seconds, I read of something, searched for the it and found it. I thought of the boxes and boxes of betamax tapes in my mum and dad’s loft, things I could never throw away due to the priceless nature of the archive material. I foresaw my role as the librarian of taped TV culture. 

Yet here it all is. If you want to see 12 minutes of ITV idents from 1967 to 1984, a speech by Jane Goodall about chimpanzee behaviour, the launch of Pioneer 10, or that short Spanish film about a man trapped in a phone box you remember from when you were 9, you can. A museum of millions of people’s nostalgia is readily accessible. The world is populated by many of Ralph Richardson’s Rollerball librarian. 

This to me is remarkable, but I have to consciously remind myself it is remarkable. We are surrounded by so many remarkable things, it is very easy to see them as humdrum essentials for a self-conscious being. We do not think of the shoulders of giants required for us to see, hear and feel what we do in our humdrum lives. There is so much to immerse ourselves in, we become blasé and blinded. To ensure our future, we have to be aware of our past, our limitations and the ambition and passion we need to keep us in the state that we are in. Skype, mobile phones, youtube, instant access to people and culture from around the world, all has happened during my adulthood. Regular bulletins of broadcasts from astronauts demonstrating the behaviour of water in a spacecraft or singing Space Oddity is just something that happens, why wouldn’t it? 

We expect a new future on a monthly basis. New technical innovations are not remarkable, they are just what we constantly expect. Of course there’ll be something more futuristic than this week’s mobile phone that is becoming anachronistic in your hand, they must have something to satiate our lust to buy. 

What was happiness in their hand becomes a shameful relic. Like any addiction, the joy becomes less and less, the paradise from seeing the sharper colours of the bruised pigs is gone by Tuesday.

The increased speed of built in obsolescence leading to a mad dash home from the shops in the hope your purchase is still relevant when you take it out of the bag.  The constancy of the innovations making them almost instantaneously banal. 

I am not anti-technology. I am sure it wasn’t all better when we ploughed by hand and entertainment was your mum playing the squeezebox as you all sang songs about skylarks, and your dad gutted an invisibly diseased rabbit that would go on to kill two of your family. 

Distractions are good, until they stop being distractions and become the main event (I really must spend less time on twitter). 

We currently have more ways to communicate with each other across the world, to create things internationally without even meeting face to face, it would be tragic if all these tools just made us more insular. While holding a gadget that can give you the world, we retreat into ourselves, so that even when we are sitting around together we are actually communicating with what sits in our palms. The machine that offers you the world just becomes about self. Everything is within arms’ reach.  

Laptops have many times been described as pornography machines, but now they are fury devices. If you haven’t felt any rage in a day, don’t worry, two clicks and you are furious. Look, there’s that Geoffrey Levy article about Ed Miliband’s dad, that should stir you up. The racists, the misogynists, the contrarians, the deniers, the ugly minded dimwits will keep you from that novel you wanted to read or imagined you’d write, you’ve got comments to leave under articles and an argument to have with someone whose avatar is vomiting cat in a football shirt.

The internet gives access to the great works of literature, millions of lectures, works of art and science, but many of us are less interested in learning when we can find 50 people who agree that we are right anyway. However moronic or ludicrous our idea may be, we will be able to find enough people in the world to secure our belief that we are right. 

When the future is talked of, people ask, who was right, Huxley or Orwell? 

Are we becoming a people who has the truth manipulated, censored and hidden or a people who don’t care about the truth because we were so deeply immersed in our pleasures. I’d go with a mixture of the two, plus a little more optimism than either. Obviously the levels of Orwellian to Huxleyian changes from nation to nation.

We have the machines that can lead to a happier ending or at least a merrier continuation. Our media can be manipulated,when we look at the past, propaganda and spin of murders, tragedies and strikes we should be aware that this is not just dark nostalgia but something that will still be ticking along. Each decade we’ll look back and think “why, how could we be so manipulated all those years ago” while having another shroud of deceit pulled over us again.  

The future I would like to imagine can only be secured by being vigilant, by mixing the technologies of now and the future with the skills accrued by minds evolving for millions of years. We need to be interested and we need to think about the efforts required to get us to here. We need to occasionally look at the hot water coming out of the tap and think, “hmm seven seconds isn’t so long to wait, and I am happy this bath is not tin. Now how many different flavours did I experience today?”. 

Complacency will kill us, well, that and the sun drying up all water on earth in 3 billion years time, but lets look to the next thousand years before we start looking to the ensuing billion. 

Oh, and I did play a couple of games of Angry Birds Star Wars in between paragraphs.

Solo tour shows coming up in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol, Radlett and more shows with Grace Petrie and Josie Long. Also new show with Brian Cox at Hammersmith – details of all HERE

Happiness Through Science DVDs HERE

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7 Responses to The Future?…That Old Thing

  1. sam says:

    Many people predicted the moon landings, but none predicted it would watched by millions on TV. I don’t think we should worry about the next thousand years, in the words of the unsurpassed clairvoyant JG ballard,”I’m only worried about the next five minutes”, and, “a washing machine never grows old gracefully”. Really enjoy your blogs, but lay-off the contrarians

  2. robinince says:

    the contrarians will distract you, that is one of those things they do.

  3. sam says:

    No they don’t , yes they do…

  4. celkali says:

    I’m too young to remember a time when the internet didn’t exist. Everything at every moment of my life has been available at my fingertips. For a very long time I spent all those moments on computer games, watching the previously stated cat throwing up into a football jersey, and telling my friends through IM that omg harry potter is so gay (while harboring sacred first editions in my closet). I’ve changed a bit since then, but I still watch stupid cat videos- that’s just human nature.

    Hold up, checking Tumblr. ‘Like’ these Rear Window gif sets, very nice….

    When the NSA leaks happened, my dad was furious. How could the government spy on us, check our search history, read our private emails, even read irrelevant forum posts from years before? It’s an Orwellian nightmare! To me it was barely newsworthy. I already assumed they were monitoring the internet. I mean, if a bunch of /b/tard hackers by the name of Anonymous can hack into accounts, websites, cause DDoS attacks for shits and giggles, and so forth, then I was pretty sure the government could do a whole lot more.

    … I’ve lost my train of thought. Oh, train, gotta hit replay on this killer mashup of Thomas the Tank Engine vs 50 Cent.

    I should be doing a script analysis that I’ve had a month to do plus the following film analysis, due in two days and if late holds back the entire class, but fuck it. I wanna eat cherry Laffy Taffy’s, listen to music, and make inane comments on the blog of someone I don’t even know. The future is a wonderful thing indeed.

    Dude, you should seriously check out this dubhouse remix of Moonlight Sonata.

  5. I never stop marvelling at the information at the end of my digits, every day brings something new and I am glad to say something old too.

    I have found my balance with the new technology and that is to find about the old using the new, So far I have built both a Stirling Engine and a Lamina Flow Engine with Bluepeterish household objects from tutorials on the interweb! I have fixed roller brakes on one of my vintage bikes using videos from the other side of the world and I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate…sorry got carried away!

    I have taken many courses with Coursera and taken several steps closer to my Degree with the OU. And in my own small way helped other understand how Science works.
    This wonderful world made smaller yet bigger at the same time has allowed me to spend all day with my dog and still do my work.
    I love it and cherish it and long may it surprise, please and anger me.

  6. About 13 years ago now I completed a B.Eng degree in electronics and digital systems engineering. I didn’t go into engineering as a career and have now more or less forgotten most of what I learnt (possibly for my own sanity), but I do recall getting that hair-tingling sensation on many occasions, as the lecturers lifted the lid on some now commoditised systems and devices.

    We studied the maths that goes on inside a CD player as it performs error correction, how a digital mobile phone receiver works, how MPEG video compression works, the maths of realtime audio processing – and so on.

    Most of this stuff was figured out in the 1950s or earlier, and My Christ are they impressive feats of ingenuity and problem solving. It’s really really hard stuff.

    When you’re constantly faintly aware that mathematical calculations involving calculus, imaginary numbers and the frequent appearance of the value negative infinity, are taking place one billion times a second in your pocket you’re sort of protected from ever taking it for granted. It’s all utterly amazing, and the scientists, mathematicians and engineers who have built this modern world should be saluted.

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