Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Are You Protopian, Utopian or Dystopian?

"The Medium is the Massage is... a collide-oscope of interfaced situations." ~Marshall McLuhan

What makes the heart ask so many questions? Inquiring minds want to know.

Paul Gauguin's most famous painting is a series of questions: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

These are hard questions. These are life's big questions.

As we think about the future, about where our human species is going, many other questions rise into our thoughts.

Will there one day be colonies on Mars?
Will we one day travel to other galaxies?
Will we ever eliminate poverty on earth?
Will ignorance and hate ever be eradicated?
Will there ever be a world peace, with no more wars?
How could that be achieved?

Is the future becoming brighter, darker or more of the same?

Will humans have the necessary skills to manage the future?
Will intelligent machines eventually rule the world?
Will human brains and machines one day be wired?

Will Chinese be the language of the future?
How long will "the American century" last?

Will the virtual grand canyon be so vivid that people stop going to the real one?

Does anyone really know what time it is? Some physicists do not believe time exists.

* * * *

While reading Calum Chace's Surviving A.I. I learned a new word: Protopian.

The word, purportedly coined by Wired editor Kevin Kelly, has been offered up as an alternative to the two other most common descriptors of the future, Dystopian and Utopian. Utopias strike most of us as fictional fantasies beyond the realm of possibility, even for the most dedicated possibility believers. Instead we've spent a lifetime reading books and seeing movies that predict or portray a vast array of Dystopian futures, grisly, grey and grim.  Nothing to look forward to. Nothing to inspire hope.

Kelly offers a way out. Proponents of a Protopian future believe that technology and progress can move the world toward brighter tomorrows, better futures, even if not a perfect future. It gives hope a resting place. It gives us prospects and invites us to contribute toward bringing about that better tomorrow. It's an alternative to "Let's eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die."

If I have to choose between these three futures, I'll cast my lot with the Protopians.

* * * *

A portion of my bedtime reading last night included Shawn Dubravac's Digital Destiny: How the New Age of Data Will Transform the Way We Work, Live and Communicate. The Digital Age is very new and its implications only beginning to be recognized. Here are some mind-blowing stats for consideration. These numbers are from 2014.

Every minute....
...204 million email messages were sent;
...Google received over four million search queries;
...2.46 million pieces of content were shared on Facebook;
...277,000 tweets were sent;
...216,000 photos were posted on Instagram;
...48,000 apps were downloaded from Apple's App Store;
...26,380 reviews were posted on Yelp;
...3,472 images were pinned to Pinterest;
...and 72 hours of new videos were uploaded to YouTube.

One can only suppose these numbers are even more astonishing today. Here's another set of numbers.

When I attended the Fourth Annual Robert Wright Writers Conference at Mankato State in 1985, I learned that there were 50,000 books being published a year, 2000 fiction and 48,000 non-fiction. Today, with the advent of digital publishing, there are a million books being published a year. Are we better off? Are they better books? Are they more important books?

The positive aspect of that statistic is that more people's voices can now be heard. The new channels of publishing really have given power to the people. For better or for worse.

As for tomorrow.... what will be will be.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. 

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