The Incomprehensible Future
Here’s a meta-truth about the future: it’s going to be vastly more complex and bewildering than the past or the present.
Every aspect of human culture used to have to fit in a space of human heads with some externalisation; books, other simple media. Now, every single aspect of our lives is all of that minus the constraints of geography plus the internet. The god-damn internet :-)
Technology (or equivalently culture) proceeds as a function of population density. That’s some kind of network function; how many minds are connected, how densely are they connected, how supported are they by tooling, how supported are they by the cultural gestalt. But what you’re really talking about is, what level of memetic complexity can the system support?
Adding the internet to culture has lifted a ceiling on maximum memetic complexity, by orders of magnitude. It’s the cultural equivalent of humans emerging from the Bering land bridge and expanding into the American continent.
Because we called it “information technology” and not “culture technology”, we didn't notice that we exploded every aspect of our social-political-technological-economic environment. And to be fair, most of that has barely begun. We’re basically in northern Alaska going “wow, look how big this place is”.
I think we all intuit this at some level. Even now, people generally approach the world with an attitude of deep bewilderment. I see it in the grumbles of the new servant classes, in the musings of creatives, in the proud proclamations of our executive masters. “We were in the right place at the right time” means “I have no idea what’s happening, why do I have this sports car? I’ll probably lose everything next week”.
Something that sticks out to me is how modernity is associated with a yearning for simplification. We love the zombie apocalypse. We are terrified of but also secretly yearn for a global warming based system collapse. We propose simple, narratively resonant solutions to super complex problems. We pretend that history is driven by leaders and vision and ideas, rather than being an alien mega-system grinding under its own logic.
And prognosticators about the future, predictably and ongoingly, present simple, legible, narratively intelligible visions of futures as a replacement for our intractable present, as if that is even remotely plausible.
But nothing’s getting replaced. New things emerge, but they live alongside the others. We had radio, and films, then superior TV replaced them both, then VCRs made broadcast TV obsolete, then DVDs and CDs made previous media obsolete, then YouTube swept all that away, then piracy destroyed the old media, then netflix and iTunes ushered in our new commercial simple media future.
Except of course all of those things now coexist. Proportional popularity changes, but all the technologies stay and mix and merge in bizarre ways. I can get wifi in the vinyl record shop down the road, how’s that for a future?
I read a lot about our post-capitalist future, but I've got news for you; there’s not a post anything future. Everything stays, plus buckets of new stuff get added on top, then stir and simmer.
We’re going to look back on 2016 and yearn for these simpler times. So I guess just try to enjoy it now. Enjoy these naive, gentler times, just before history begins in earnest.