Highway to the future or a technocultural dystopia unfolding?
Today is The Big Day for Nokia. In a few hours the the company is going to launch it’s latest Windows phone that is rumored to host the new Windows 8 OS. Later next week it’s the same with Apple and the new iPhone. The modern internet with it’s unimaginable power to transmit information boosts these two events to planetary proportions. Will Nokia finally be able to break (back) into the lead with the new phone or is the hype going to melt down with the – so far – superior Apple.
This must be what the singularity feels like but is this what it is supposed to be? I mean, virtually lining behind large companies in their attempt to dominate the market. The market? Do you mean the financial market? You know, the system behind the world scale economic disaster looming in the horizon?
I was a young man in the 90′s. Back then there were was a fast awakening to the ecological disaster facing the world. Researchers argued – and still do – that the economic boom of the 20th century is culminating in a fast depletion of natural resources. People around the world became aware of the fact that the lifestyle we enjoy does have a double edge. In the past two decades nothing much has happened to correct this “cycle of doom”.
At the start of the 21st century some of you may have noticed a modest rise of the “new consumer culture“. What this means is that people are not just buying stuff they want (like the theory of consumerism has been thus far) but people would be eager to invest in things that are ecologically and socially sustainable. This is a part of the “green revolution” and frankly, I am surprised that it still remains a very small part of the combined marketing economy that keeps our world going (faster, closer and more mobile).
I have absolutely nothing against such products like Lumia or the iPhone. Not at all. I could not imagine living with out one. Mobile devices along with other innovations of the 21st century makes my life better, easier and perhaps fuller.
And it is after doing some thinking of my own, I have decided that the way we are “hyped about the future” may well be the thing that prevents us getting there. From a Transhuman standpoint it’s easy to see why. It’s not just the fastness of development or the availability of new products that push the world forward. Those things push the economy forward and all though that is needed to keep pushing towards a more techno-oriented society, culturally, it’s not enough.
The Transhumanist in me is seeking to find the right technologies to push forward. Deciding what is right goes deep into the basics of being human (and especially Transhuman). I’m not a big fan of “nature before everything” since I have a deeply antrophocentric world view. That said, I believe we need to look at the big picture here.
And the picture states the obvious. We can’t expect to enrich our lives with depleted meanings. Even that the technology offered here is state of the art, we should ask for more. Do we really need a new cell phone or an iPad every year? By asking more we are asking not only more sustainable technological progress but a deeper and richer content as well. You may or may not know that the bloody competition in the high end technology market puts the consumer “needs” before everything else. Where is the innovation in that? Why would any company – even super rich Apple – invest billions in research and development if what they really “need” to do is keep up with competition?
We should build less and slower. At the same time we should look at what the gadgets actually offer from a cultural and social perspective. This is totally against the ideology of the “free market” since it’s said that the free market is all we need to get the best products and practices. But is this true in a situation where best ideas are nothing but market projections for a certain market segment?
If we find our selves asking who to make the markets “smarter”, we may then wake up to the fact that there still are people on the planet who can’t read or write. Or who have trouble getting food and fresh water. The planetary infrastructure of social well being is undermined all the time, not to mention that the nature around us is dying and taking us with it. This must be something for Transhumanist’s to think about and in my understanding they are. This could also be a message what would make Transhumanism even a more interesting world view among the peoples of the world. It just needs good packaging.
No singularity worth the effort is going to happen unless we take care of the present first. We are loosing massive human resources due to poverty and we are loosing the battle to master nature – because we are continually at risk of being extinct because we are still very much dependent on the natural environment.
Despite this I’ll be rooting for Nokia this week. It’s still a Finnish company in name at least. I’ll also be dreaming about technological progress that would actually benefit humanity and pave the way for a better, happier and richer future.
Ilkka Vuorikuru is a PhD student in sociology of science and technology at the University of Turku, Finland. He works as a Technoculture Adviser, journalist, coach and motivational speaker.
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