A Transitional Decade

I was thinking about what my friend Sam over at Morpheme Addict said in this post.  It lead me to some not-totally-coherent thoughts, which maybe someone will be gracious enough to query in the comments?

Anyways, Sam expresses a feeling of frustration and disconnect with the Facebook-and-blogging world which I think we’ve all known.  I had the thought that this is probably a natural, albeit unfortunate, result of this being a transitional decade.

We live in a pretty great time overall, those of us who have everything that someone with internet access probably has these days, but I think we’re in a transition from the previous era to the next.  Maybe this transition started a couple years ago, around the time of the iPod or so, or maybe the seeds of it go all the way back to, I dunno, the 90s, or maybe it’s not enough a consistent thing that you can put a specific date on (as William Gibson said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”)  Whenever it began, this transitional time, which I randomly feel will finish its arc more or less concurrently with this decade, the teens, is one of inevitable frustrations.

I think it’s because our technology and society are woefully inconsistent and unsettled.  We’re in the midst of changing from a world in which, for instance, you can lose a limb and have a handicap for the rest of your life, and one in which you can get a replacement hand that you can control with your brain and which can send nerve signals back to your brain like Luke Skywalker.  It seems only a matter of time and achieving even-distribution-of-the-future before most such injuries, and blindness, and deafness, and many other things, are closer to repairs that need to be made to your car than they are life-altering.  To put it another way, we are moving into a world where a lot of what we do is “doing our best to deal with” such problems and simply repairing.  It will be rather different when, for instance, tools for coping (and making a normal life) like schools for the deaf and hearing aids are relics of the past.

Skywalker Robot Hand

Luke represents you, the open robot forearm represents the Internet, and the hand represents your friends.

In the same way, I think we’re moving from a world in which the internet is a tool for coping to one when it a fully functional and integrated unit of society.  We use the internet now to essentially “cope” with our inability to keep up with people, news and information at the speed it happens around the world.  Blogging is not, for instance, a natural or efficient way of disseminating ideas; nor is Facebook a natural way of connecting with friends.  They are simply the best we can do with the technology and social apparatus we have, until such time as the phone-device-embedded-viso-chips-Google-view-glasses enable us to seamlessly integrate them into our daily lives.  I believe that, soon enough – maybe in about a decade or so – instead of being a distraction, the next generation of social media will actually be an invisible tool that makes it easier to chat with, arrange meetings with, and actually be closer with our friends and colleagues.  And the next generation of blogging will somehow be integrated with Google-type tools to take the awkward, haphazard and self-serving work that is required today to promote, curate and find worthy blog material, and replace it with something more truly meritocratic.

I can’t say I know what it’ll look like, but you have to see something of this kind of progress in the way Twitter improves upon Facebook which improved upon Myspace which improved upon disjointed chatrooms as a personal-news-and-opinion delivery tool.  Or the way cloud-storage for music improves upon iTunes which improved upon various steps all the way back to Napster.  Eventually we’ll have some magical music-delivery function that serves everybody fairly and easily; eventually we’ll have social media functions just the same.  (And it’s not just the technology itself that’s important, but the social codes and practices that enable everyone to use it together as well.)

But until such time as we achieve this fluidity of connection, we’re stuck with having to use the internet as the interface by which we “hack” our friends and colleagues in order to get them to listen to us.  Communicating in this transitional phase is sort of like trying to swim in a pool that’s still being filled, or trying to make a movie out of daguerreotype.  The good news is, this phase won’t last forever.  The bad news is that, until it does, we’re going to keep dancing from one intermediate step to the next.  When it’s all done (not that progress is ever “done,” but it does cross thresholds) this era will be largely forgotten by most people the way the first 75 years of photography or the first 40 years of mobile phone technology have been.

Maybe most of us are better off just hanging back in the real world for this decade.

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3 comments

  1. I become a bit manic when I think about what the future will bring, in regards to technology. I just finished a novel in which I explored some of the same concepts you discuss in this post, and the ideas nearly took me under. Better to take one day at a time (and leave the rest for my writing). I love this sentence: “Maybe most of us are better off just hanging back in the real world for this decade.” And amen.

    1. “Manic,” interesting. Why manic?
      I think we definitely live at a time when our science is advance and clear enough that we really can see the inventions coming in the future, but, totally, we aren’t yet equipped to deal with them and the changes they’ll bring.

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