Friday, August 31, 2007


I am writing you from a future. A future where technology will appear to make things better because its immediate effects have been overestimated and its long-term effects underestimated. It is a future we can glimpse now if we look for clues in the “back pages”, the subtext, and scroll through to the source code. How you might ask, do we see into the future?

I’ve been trying for a long time. Since I started reading, my first books were about the past, prehistoric archeology—and the future, as in science fiction. Initially, I especially enjoyed childhood classics like Tom Swift, and Jules Verne, but eventually graduating to the classical canon of Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. As adolescence took over, there were detours to Harlan Ellison, Olaf Stapledon and to the fantasy and horror genres. I have been collecting books about the future ever since and now, some of my best friends are futurists.

Looking back, it’s interesting to me that I read about the past and the future when I was young, but wasn’t particularly interested in reading the newspaper. The philosopher, George Santayana, famously remarked, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

His quote speaks to a first step in understanding the future by referencing the past—something I seem to have intuited at a young age before education biased me about the nature of time flowing in one direction—but time is another story entirely, awaiting another column, perhaps. In my work life, I graduated to reading books about the future and my collection has continued to grow. I read everything from books about divination, both ancient and modern, to theoretical works like David Orrell’s recent study of the science of prediction, The Future of Everything.

There are other engaging and important books like The Extreme Future, The Singularity Is Near, Turning the Future Into Revenue, as well as many of Robert D. Kaplan’s works and anything and everything by Jeremy Rifkin, who runs the Foundation for Economic Trends in Washington, DC. Books on scenario planning are also an especially useful subgenre. Others like Megatrends 2010, the sequel to the 1988 best seller by John Naisbett suffer from being too general to have staying power. And there’s always Faith Popcorn for those readers interested in more pop forecasting.

One of the best books I’ve read on the subject in the last several years is Future Hype: The Myths of Technology Change by Bob Seidensticker, a realistic and debunking look at how technology’s effects can be oversold. That said, one thing that I can predict with certainty is that books about the future don’t age particularly well—hence, my own story.

Eight years ago, I was asked by a well-established New York literary agent to apply what I’d learned traversing the world of traditional and new media to write a book about the future. An appropriately high-minded title with appropriately obscure subtitle soon emerged, The Audience of the Future Is Watching: The Birth of Tribal Media, and my word processor began to hum. I quickly wrote the first two chapters-- “Game Generation” and “It’s Like, Whatever—the New Language of Indecision”.
Somewhat unexpectedly, my enthusiasm abated. I had begun thinking about the future of my book, and went through various nightmare scenarios of planned obsolescence for my nascent work. In retrospect, my use of the antiquated word “audience” is telling of obsolescence, given that the term originally comes from the Old French word meaning, “hearing.”

So, here I offer the flap copy of my unpublished book about the future for you to judge to see if I was right about not wanting to write it. Everything is exactly as I wrote it ten years ago. Hint: I couldn’t resist planting one new bullet just to make it fun for those gamers to discover. Answer will be revealed in the next post.

Here goes:

•The machines will win the current war between silicon-based life forms and carbon-based bipeds.

•Personal computers and information will continue to develop as a parallel non-biological life form that will demand as its price of admission the loss of human consciousness.

•Data will become a time machine. Data flow will change our perception of time, slowing psychological time and compressing physical time.

•The simulated and the real will exchange places and attempt a coup on the human imagination.

•The difference between the human and machine will blur until science proves the existence of the soul.

•The upcoming final consolidation of media will narrow consumer choice.

•There will be a direct correlation between the near-term expansion of media distribution and a growing, critical shortage of content.

•The on-demand universe will, in fact, bring disempowerment of the individual through a growing lack of diversity in content.

•There will be anarchy at the frontier where multinational brands and youth tribes meet.

• Advertising and entertainment will combine to become one medium.

• Co-ventures between advertisers, celebrities and the studios will create a sponsored model for the motion picture business.

•Primary, direct experience of the world will become the ultimate commodity.

•The growing shift in control of distribution from the media conglomerates to the consumer will continue and the future integration of online media with on-demand, set-top technology will ensure that consumers remain in control.

• The audience of the future will grow to expect empowerment, as a component of their daily media intake and entertainment that doesn’t offer a proactive element, will not survive.

• Yuppie parents coddling of their offspring with media will turn children into “tiny adults” and childhood will become an artifact.

•The saturation bombing of our senses by media will create changes in the use of language and influence a shift from clarity and definition to the tentative tense and uniformity.

•Technology will grow more compact and make life seem portable, but will make our cultural obsession with permanence turn into a mania.

•Future advancements in telecommunications technology will have the apparent effect of bringing people closer, but will actually make their communication more abstract and increase the distance between them.

•Corporations will continue to believe that increased demographic knowledge of consumers through data mining will bring them closer to buyers, but the conversation between sellers and buyers will become a monologue.

•The end of puberty will create a world in which intimacy is more valuable than gold.

•Games and role-playing will spawn religious cults where barter and betting offer a substitute for cash.

•Multi-tasking will create new strains of learning disorders that will make attention deficit disorder seem like the common cold.

•The coming generation will have no brand loyalties, only community affinities.

•Violence and sex will prove false gods and demand replacement models.

•The average attention span will become nano and memory will become a drug.

•The dominance of the visual and decline of the word will cause literacy to become an underground cargo cult.

•The expanding daily media bath will finally turn nature into a museum.

• The role of the United States as a media imperialist will decline and innovation in technology and entertainment will largely come from abroad.

•History will totally disappear as a generational frame of reference and be replaced by therapy and the self as dominant cultural worldview.

Scholar and historian of comparative religion, Mircea Eliade, once posed that as culture declines, there is a mistaken belief that if everything is published--from the Tibetan and Egyptian Books of the Dead to the most arcane technical manuals--that the Ultimate Answer to our fate can be discovered. In fact, many true believers view the Internet as a kind of Alexandrian Library redux, now borne out by the Google Books Library Project, which seeks to digitize all the worlds’ books.

But, if there are any answers to be found, we must first ask ourselves if we know how to ask the right questions…or as Keith Moon of The Who once said to me, “The philosophy of today is the common sense of the future.”

The future is the future is the present.

Marshall McLuhan

We will be the best-informed generation to die of

Ruben Blades

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