Sunday, September 16, 2012

The future that didn't happen

One of my guilty pleasures is to read cyberutopian literature from earlier ages. "Earlier ages", in this case, is the time range from the late 80s to somewhere around 2005. A line somewhat arbitrarily drawn, but there is a shift at about that point in time in the outlook on the future. There is a distinct sense of Before and After, if one but knows to look for it.

For instance - ever notice how the concept of "virtual reality" isn't really around anymore? It used to be all the rage, but then it faded away. Why?

One might argue that the new forms of social media have something to do with it. When the possibility to discuss real world things with real world people, the need for intermediaries (may they be ever so realistic) faded away. Or, rather, the virtual reality melded with vanilla reality, and produced the strange place we live in today.

There's more to it than that, to be sure. But you see the shift that has taken place (quite literally in some cases). The optimism that is just about everywhere in the earlier ages (the earlier the better) has for some reason become displaced by the real brutalisms of the social.

And thus, instead of speaking about the internet as a place where the marginal can find soul mates in a dreary world, we have concepts like "cyberbullying".

That glorious future of information superhighways and endless possibilities seems a far cry from where we actually ended up.

How did this come to pass?


  1. Some of us might not have ended up on the information super highway, but if today was 1996, I would never have gone to the university, because it would have been a waste of time. Virtual reality has been with us for long. What we forgot was how easy the human brain can travel to other worlds and that it doesn't take that much to satisfy our needs. My kids are currently playing minecraft. They are totally engulfed in another realm with other rules and laws. It isn't fake. We're also not talking about VR because AR is just around the corner and it is even a more powerful concept than VR ever was.

    We're still talking about Internet as a place where we can find and do find soul mates. I don't think any of my children will find the love of their life on the pub, that's for sure. Instead they most likely to find someone through a social network.

    Cyberbullying was present in the early literature too. It is just to trivial and uninteresting so there isn't much to say about it.

    1. Some would say that the first city was the first virtual reality. It certanly wasn't "nature" anymore.

      Still. That sense of being free from the past isn't really among us any more. Maybe it is the past catching up with us, or the future settling in. But for whatever reason, the unconditional optimism of earlier ages is a rare thing to come by these days.

      I wonder why this is. Where'd all that energy go?

  2. I guess what made cyberpunk hacker stories interesting was that hacking was a romantic thing and that computers, while controlling the world, were only usable on an above-average level by a very select few.
    Reasonably strong computers are now incredibly cheap, available and even made into fashion accessories. "Hacking" has turned into skiddies and everyday DDOS perpetrated by anyone who finished programming 101 and put a trojan in a torrent.
    Mostly though computers haven't become the all-powerful controlling AI's and hacker-kings cyberpunk literature made me wish for. People are still in charge and actual outsmarting of a system is painstaking reading over patch notes and hoping for a new flaw in a system the target uses.

    On the bright side, without good affordable PC's, videogames might have stayed on the level they were in the early 90's, or even earlier. I'll take what I can get.

    1. Don't get me started on those games. I still find myself stuck playing through some of them for hours on end - as if no time at all had passed.

      But, alas, time has passed. I'm slowly starting to think some of the lost glamour has to do with the fact that the kids of today don't really know that they are expected to treat computers as new and cool. They are just there, waiting, nothing extraordinary about them.

      Maybe that's a topic for another post. Or two, just for the thought of it. ;)