Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Welcome to Dystopia

What leads a person to launch a blog? Probably the same impulse that leads one to write a book, make a phone call, or get out of bed in the morning -- the desire to communicate and participate in the world. My goal for this effort is to present an honest view of the impact of technology and economic growth on the United States as well as other socieites.

Every day the newspapers seem to tell us the world is a gloomy place. That post-milennial gloom is in the air. My theory is that people feel the future happening all around them and it's dizzying. We still remember the ways things were in the gentler era (you remember: the good old days when all you had to worry about was nuclear holocaust happening any milisecond?). But the 70s and 80s were a radically different, and quieter, time. Everyone wasn't hyperconnected. You could only watch movies at the theater (remember the lines in 1977?) or on ABC's Sunday Night Special.

We're living in the future. Fair enough, but what has the culture been telling us the future would be? Seems to me, the culture has been pretty clear. "Welcome to Dystoipia!"

Remember the Morlocks? The Time Machine was written by H.G. Wells in 1895, and he anticiapted a future where class warfare had gone genetic by nature.

Aldous Huxley imagined the class division would go genetic thanks to artificial intervention in Brave New World. Well, come to think of it, "I don't want to be a Beta." Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess shows a pretty nasty, empty life for the Cheloveks. And most famously, George Orwell's vision may be the bleakest in 1984, with doublespeak and big brother.
Many contemporary SF films borrow directly from this theme: The economy is hard on the underclass, and the state has eroded freedoms in the perverse defense of freedom. The basic idea is that employment will be rare due to robotics, and so the classes will be even more deeply split among the owner haves and the labor have-nots.

How does that square with our reality, which is reflected by absolute and constant improvement in incomes? I'll return to this question frequently in this blog, and would enjoy your thoughts. I am haunted by the human tendency to pretend things are bad when they are not, mainly because the pretense is an intellectual laziness that turns to the ever-larger central state for solutions. An ever larger state? ... Welcome to Dystopia.


caveatBettor said...

Great looking blog; I wish you great success with it.

A couple of films came to mind, as I was reading your list of literature:

1) Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and

2) Mike Judge's Idiocracy

I think this shows that a few of your future readers are like me, who in turn is like Thornton Mellon (I didn't read the book; I saw the movie!).

Marc Shivers said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Tim. Nice to see more policy-focused people joining in the conversation.

Dr. T said...

The computer in "The Matrix" observed that the first version it made for humans failed because it created a utopia for people, and people started self-destructing. So it had to turn around and create a world with lots of problems so that people would remain sane. The writers had a brilliant insight. The better things get, the fewer problems people have, the more self-destructive they become. We need problems, real problems, to solve. That's part of our nature.