Futurists, Please Accept Your Religion
Like many other technically inclined (and often antisocial) children, I grew up watching Star Wars and Star Trek. I read H.G. Wells alongside how particle accelerators worked. The sciences were my favorite subject in school, and my parents were kind enough to maintain subscriptions of Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and Discover magazines before the internet made all of that information completely free.
My belief growing up was that the future was the answer to society’s problems. Even though new issues may arise, they would pale in comparison to the past’s travails. We would cure AIDS and cancer, end world hunger, travel the stars and discover all of what we currently know as the known universe.
However, my belief in the promises of the future started waning even while I still find solace in technology. It seems that technology does create answers, but also creates new and more intricate problems.
Don’t get me wrong; life is far more convenient with technology. We no longer have to remember phone numbers, keep pagers to be contacted, wait for days for most formal communications to arrive or endure the uncertainty from the lead time between sending a message and hearing a response.
Nobody seems to look at the opportunity cost to the conveniences we were born into, at least not in the tech or engineering world. It happens partly from many, many young people running the industry, but also through specialization in the sciences that overlooks what history can teach us.
The cost to any convenience comes at some unfortunate and costly expenses.
If you’d like to contact your friend at one point in the long past, you were constrained to two options: visit them or send a messenger. Eventually, that messenger became automated via postal service. Messages could then be sent rapidly via telegram. Then, the telephone allowed capturing and transmitting voice. That voice capture became wireless via radio and cellular technology.
We are now where communication services have come together into an all-in-one package of messages as SMS, dynamic back-and-forth voice messages as phone calls, public and semi-public messages through social media, and any other variety of communication that can be conveyed.
To say that this is no longer simple is an understatement. Yes, we can “simply” have one device for everything we need, but is it simple to fully operate? Is it a simple procedure to perform? If you’ve grown up with a technology, you won’t naturally notice its impact on your life, but the lives of our grandparents were far more straightforward in some ways than ours are today.
Another element we don’t observe due to its slow creep into our lives is how much it has sabotaged our ability to maintain privacy. If someone wants to get ahold of you right now, they can do so in a matter of seconds. We end up with the additional responsibility to force ourselves not to interact with others. This extra responsibility is an alien concept to our ancestors to imagine if they were alive today, and many of them may not prefer the boons of technology for the costs.
The same goes for medical advancements. As much as the convenience and blessing of modern medicine have endowed us with long life and vitality, we are also susceptible to an army of afflictions that couldn’t have happened in time past. Instead of a rapid death from falling off an ox, we witness a slow death by Alzheimer’s. Though many of our diseases are now known, it only heightens the drama of losing loved ones to it.
We trade one thing for another, and that is a natural byproduct of this life. I don’t mind the trade, and technology is a beautiful thing, but my issue lies with the people who elevate it to a potential it has never proven itself to attain.
The idea of teleportation sounds excellent: instantaneous transportation of matter across a long distance. Barring the technical hang-ups that stories like The Fly can give us, it seems like an answer to our transportation issues. There would be no traffic jams, car accidents, missed connections, or need to wait for anything to arrive.
If you think about it further (and I postulate that Futurists usually don’t), teleportation also has issues that will come with it. It will take energy to power it and therefore won’t eliminate the need to transport things the old-fashioned way.
Also, think of the social effects of it. If you think people are impatient now waiting in the McDonald’s line, imagine how they’d be in the future with a teleport button transporting their hover-burger into their house!
A new power source like the fabled cold fusion reactor would be a powerful harnessing of the atom, but it would create a different kind of pollution. Spacefaring peoples would face non-Earth issues that would practically make them into the culture of what our movies depict alien races to be. Enabling people to live to 150 may risk a convalescent economic meltdown. I could go on.
From the beginning of recorded history, man has had immense troubles every day they’re alive, and this will persist as long as the universe stays the way it is. If you believe that man’s salvation lies in technological progress, you’re a Futurist. The answer has always rested in faith.
Some people worship God; others worship the cosmos. Some people have pantheistic beliefs, and others have faith only in what science can prove. If the future is your faith, go right ahead, but please stop imagining yourself to be more rational for it.
Greg Stucky is also known as the Philosopher Accountant. Most of his posts are more positive or analytical than this one, but this is his first post on Medium, so here you go.