Whether you’re a proponent of a real-time web or a near-real-time web, one thing is for certain: we’re facing communication as it’s never been predicted.
A few things brought this thought on. Earlier today, I was listening to CC Chapman‘s stream-of-consciousness podcast, Managing the Grey (specifically the episodes on Moments and Buckets – you’ll get it if you hear them) after having had a conversation with someone about the state of the internet ant communication. I’ve also spent the last week reading William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which I’ve never read before despite its general acceptance as a seminar cyberpunk book. It’s also been a big week on the net, with Google releasing so many new toys and making an apparent bid on Yelp.
So this evening I’ve been poring over my library of assorted science fiction and so on, and it seems like that’s it: The very concept of total democratization by way of technology is incredibly rare. I know, a lot of you are going to tell me it’s not (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is on my christmas list, now) but this is an important thing. A lot of advancement lately has come at the inspiration of science fiction, yet the idea of social media, the creation of the meritocratic celebrity, and even the modulation of how we basically receive information, seems like a huge oversight.
When I look at the effect the internet has had on our culture from the perspective of a fiction author, I see a lot of things. How jacked in we are, even when we’re not tethered. The shift toward a gestalt state where many minds are fuelled by a singular, bottomless well of information best available to those who know the currents in the well. The falling principle of enforceable influence such as mass media once controlled. All of these things, taken together with a growing acceptance of the cloud, makes for some really interesting change. Clay Shirky said something to the effect that things only get socially interesting once they’ve gotten technologically boring. Absolute truth.
Being at the end of prophecy is a troubling prospect. Mayan calendars end in three years. I’m sure Nostradamus is just about out of quips by now. Where do we go from here? Science fiction writers are still, naturally, dreaming up new things, but most of what I’m seeing lately is either nothing but new toys, which will be developed eventually, or new approaches to old problems using previously invented new toys. It’s hard to find good examples of purely tangential thought that can still be accurately represented in digestable sociological terms.
But maybe that’s where the falling down is going on. Try explaining the Twitter phenomenon to anyone ten years ago; we were all still getting over email back then, much less instant messaging. Try explaining Google to the people building the infrastructure the internet itself relies upon during the time it was being built. Would they have understood? Do we understand now?
Frank Herbert wrote in the Dune series about the end of prophecy, and summarily concluded the series still in the thick of dealing with the fallout of the event itself. “You cannot see past a decision you do not understand” the books said many times. Perhaps that’s the crossroads we’re at now, the intersecting of technology, humans being, and the slow but sure changing of trajectory beyond which we simply can’t see.
The worst part of all this? Quantum physics demands that observing the state of minutiae is, itself, interference in the process the minutiae has undertaken. So not only are we unable to see past the crossroads, all purported prophecy is futile because it comes through the filter of our past experiences.