by M. Christian
The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet. –William Gibson
I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote. Like a lot of people, I first interpreted it as the father of cyberpunk making a statement against income, and technology, disparity: that only the wealthy could afford the future.
But then I began to rethink that supposition. First of all, how could the future be here, in the present? Making this subjective, I like to think of a present future as being a current environment where someone from the past would find few places of reference: a place where old, and flawed systems have been replaced with new perspectives.
it can’t just be just about technology. After all, everyone has friends or relatives who can afford the newest [fill in the blank] yet are clueless in how to use it to affect their lives for the better.
Home automation falls squarely into this camp. Yes, the wealthy can spent serious bucks getting their intelligent personal assistant to do everything from turn on their lights to play their favorite music, but does it make any real shifts in how they live? At it’s core this tech is basically just a more elaborate way of flipping a switch or scrolling through a playlist.
This means that for many people with too much money to spend on technology they are still basically living as they have been for decades.
Let’s take a different tack. Though the magic of a thought experiment I’d like to you to meet someone from, say, the early part of the 20th century. Or, to be more precise, let’s go back an even 100 years to 1917.
Sure, they’d be awestruck by a small black rectangle that could, with a gesture, communicate with practically anyone anywhere on the planet, contain thousands of pieces of music, hundreds of books, or even display hours and hours of moving pictures.
But this is just a thing, a device. You could even describe it to them as a form of a book: a new a way of storing information. Even as a telephone the concept wouldn’t be too far outside their frame of reference.
Then they’d look at the person holding the device … and here’s where things get interesting. Beyond things like hairstyles and clothing, they’d look at us like we were from a different planet. Our concepts of things like family and sex — which we’ll get to in a moment — would completely baffle and even terrify them.
Absolutely technology has changed, immensely, in 100 years but what’s really changed, to the point where this visitor from the past could find very little that would be comfortable, is human society.
In short, the future is here and it is not even distributed but it’s not a gap between the technological haves and the have nots but rather those who embrace change and those who don’t.
Just look around to prove my point that this isn’t just about technology: we have religious fundamentalists who think the Dark Ages were the “good old times” yet carry smartphones, we have Nazi’s with Twitter accounts, we have avowed bigots with Youtube channels … the list, sadly, goes on and on.
These kind of people would be comfortable with our 1917 ancestor. Which is a truly terrifying idea.
Meanwhile, we have people in the present who look at the world not thinking of how to drag it backwards but are willing to experiment with new ways to do … well, everything.
Their tech may not be the newest but their lives are beautifully experimental, full of state-of-the-art questions — and even bleeding-edge solutions. Why follow the programming of school, university, degree, and career? Why follow the old pattern of work, work, work then retire and die? Why own a house? Why own a car? Why look at the world through a intractable view of religion or patriotism?
Instead why not be a citizen not of a country but the world? Why not leave religion behind and explore your own, personal, spirituality? Why not work just enough to give you only want you need? Why not embrace diversity instead of fearing it? Why not build communities instead of nations? Why not preserve the planet instead of using it up?
And a big part of that new way of thinking is about sex.
It is one of, if not the, most contentious things that’s tearing so much of the world apart right now — and at the heart of this contention is fear of change.
Just look at everything from gay rights to gender activism: far too many think they have the right to tell people who they can and cannot be, who they consensually love — usually because they think a religious book says so.
But the core of it is that they find what’s happening, the way things are going, the future confusing and intimidating: it wants them to alter how they look at the world and the people around them.
Meanwhile, on the other side of this fence are those who see what’s happening, and where it could go with some trepidation but mostly as a place full of potential: to create a positive future.
They try other kinds of experiments, too: working towards not just living and working better but having more inclusive and conscious sex lives.
Why only two genders — especially when science says there’s a wide spectrum? Why not be queer, or bi, or better yet dispense with labels are yet each person define themselves? Why not dispense with marriage? Why not expand marriage into polyamory? Why not be asexual? Why not change genders? Why not belong to someone else as consensual property? Why not consensually own someone else? Why not look at sex as not giving and getting but sharing? Why not dispense with gender roles and be just who you are — and not what people say you should be?
We are seeing this, and the good news is that we are seeing this more and more. The bigots, the Nazis, the fundamentalists might yell and shout and rant and rave but their numbers pretty much around the world are shrinking. From queer rights to polyamory, BDSM to gender activism, the right to be asexual to the outcries against sexual harassment, and so much more we are seeing what could very well develop into a beautiful–and gloriously sexual–future.
Gibson was right: the future is not evenly distributed. The wealthy will always get the fancier technology but the true potential for societal change rests with those who ask questions, who try new ways of living, and who fight to to push things ahead and not drag them back.
That doesn’t mean we should take out hands off the wheel and trust that things will work out for the better.
Far from it: the future is not just unevenly distributed but it’s also not set in stone. We have to fight, and keep fighting: not just to protect ourselves and the people we care about, but for the hope of a tomorrow full of acceptance, self-determination, experimentation, mindfulness, respect for others … and, most of all, that everyone will have the opportunity to try to create the life they want to live, to have a future that is truly evenly distributed.