This New Years’ Day, amid drinks and rounds of CAH, a realization hit me: it’s 2019, and nothing has changed since 2009. Tech has stagnated, but events have not. Happenings are more and faster.
And that’s something shows like Black Mirror fundamentally fail to understand. Technology isn’t the villain. It isn’t turning us into a bifurcated tribal society of shallow people emulating bliss, nor into a generation of high functioning sociopaths.
The future ahead is said to be uncertain. Elections, corporate mergers, stock market runs… But it’s nothing new, and nothing we can’t face together.
This is why I’ve never wanted to watch Black Mirror.
Once upon a time, I read the creator’s, Charlie Brooker’s, column in the Guardian and loved it. He made a lot of good, critical, hilarious points about video games, gadgets, the media… but he was also self-reflexive enough to note from time to time it was his source of employment.
He also had this ongoing joke about how single he was, how unattractive he was… right up until his engagement was announced – to marry a television presenter.
And, you know, good on both of them.
Except that meant all his moaning about being single was a lie, and that made me start to wonder what else he’d been lying about. Certainly his repeated claims that he distrusted and disliked television presenters had to be a lie.
So I think you’re right – it’s not the technology. To build on your point, a lot of these major events are being caused by people who seem to have little knowledge or interest in how the technology even works (step right up, MPAA and the EU committee on Internet privacy).
I’ve already seen calls for 2019 to be a more ethical year – the year people at least try to stop being part of the outrage machine that signal boosts bad actors instead of signal boosting joy in finding good ones. I suspect “it’s not the technology, it’s the humans” is part of that.
It hasn’t though. Some of these aren’t earth-shattering, but these are from lists of the best inventions of each year since 2009:
the first synthetic living cells
considerable developments in robotics (the Curiosity rover, Atlas, BigDog etc.)
considerable developments in spacecraft & exploration
voice assistants (Siri, Alexa etc.)
home automation that doesn’t suck (Nest, etc.)
desktop 3D printers
metal 3D printers
practical electic cars
ubiquitous hybrid cars
the Deepsea Challenger sub
Mars Insight lander
artificial sight enhancement for the blind
much better electric wheelchairs
I’m sure there are plenty of others I’m missing here.
In my personal sphere of interest, electronic music, there have definitely been some innovations since 2009. While the Eurorack format of modular synthesizer has been around since 1995, its explosive growth began in about 2010 – there were 13 brands making modules for it at the time, now there are over 300 and what you can do with it is insane.
The exponential growth of technology would seem to make the changes accelerate, but I’ve also noticed the days going by faster as I get older. The latter effect is probably because every day is a smaller percentage of your life so far. The combination is unsettling.
Seriously though, remember the good old days, where if you wanted to see a movie with friends, you had to call each one up individually (1), hope that you got them in person instead of an answering machine (2) or a call waiting signal (3), then arrange a place to meet (4), and look up what’s playing when and where by calling the theaters (5). Now we handle steps 1 through 4 by quick little group texts, and look online for step 5. You can also change plans more quickly now, without waiting for someone to be home and within reach of their phone. Just one humble example among many.
(1) via a list of phone numbers kept beside the phone, or a pocket sized phone book, or if you were tech savvy, speed dial.
(2) assuming they were hoity-toity enough to have an answering machine.
(3) millennials don’t even know what this means.
(4) or maybe two of your friends were in the same room as each other, or maybe they did the hold the phone against another phone thing,* or maybe if you were a phone whiz you knew how to do conference calls.
(5) this was pretty slick for its time, but text is still faster than speech. Then again, you could also read the times in the paper, assuming you had a paper, and the paper had the times for the little second run theater in the sticks that you liked to go to.
don’t laugh, we talked to each other in first person shooter games by belting or duct taping the phones to our heads, because we didn’t have headsets.
Oh oh oh! And the 24 hour news cycle, which brought you coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombing live from the Jodi Arias trial (1), and said “hey look, this guy did it!” (2) and then “just kidding, it’s really this guy!” (3) and finally “it’s these two guys!” (4). Hey, I didn’t say a fast paced life was always easier or better.
(1) supposed to have been the trial of the century, so they didn’t even bother leaving Arizona for Boston.
(2) some random homeless guy
(3) some random high school kid, who, by the way, was not a runaway as first reported. And thank you reddit for feeding the confusion.
(4) nowadays, when someone commits a mass murder, they get their own special banners and dedicated coverage and theme songs for like a week on all the 24 hour channels, whereas in the old days they would simply sink into ignominy if not total anonymity.
By twenty years. But the effect works at all ages; it’s just not as noticeable at 20 or 40. Waiting waiting waiting for the bell to ring in 7th grade was awful; in college not so much (of course some of that was a difference in interest).
That’s a big one. Especially in the last couple of years, when at any given time, the news is juggling 12 simultaneous presidential scandals and fuck-ups, 4 different environment-related disasters, 7 different ways our privacy was invaded with or without our consent, etc.
Always look to the material sciences. Years ago, they were talking about electronic paper, and then eReaders happened. Somebody puts LED in lightbulbs, and now lightbulbs last 15+ years on less electricity. What they are doing on a small level, will become the go to material in the future.
I know I go off about this every time it comes up, but this isn’t a thing and it won’t ever be a thing without a major change to the culture of people who own the car companies and who own the startups that are supposed to come up with the magic software.
Even if it comes to pass, it won’t deal with traffic issues without restarting the debate over public transit. It’s a political scam, a tech bubble scam, and a perfect example of how our magical honkies fall flat on their face after screwing up their chosen domain for a generation.
I’ve worked on problems relating to driverless cars, and I don’t think driverless cars live up to the hype. This whole thing is like trying to design an airplane with flappy wings like a bird, then judging the airplane according to the flappiness of its wings. We don’t need driverless cars per se as much as we need something that is driverless* but not necessarily a car.
*I don’t even think cars should be fully autonomous. We can fully automate certain parts of driving,
but not driving as a whole. On a scale of 0 through 10, I think cars can reach an 8 or 9 at the very most. In other words, they should always be overrideable, and all this nonsense about trolley problems is exactly that.
Kind of agree, but not entirely. Agree that the people making insecure IoT junk should be in charge of our transport. But a semi-autonomous car that handles 80-90% of stuff and expects a human driver to handle the rest is dangerous because the human’s going to zone out, start texting and playing angry birds, take a nap, or whatever, and not be responsive during that 10-20% when they’re needed. Pilots use autopilot, which can handle most things with humans just taking over in an emergency, but most drivers aren’t trained like pilots and don’t have a codriver.
I think we do need autonomous transport, and will see it, we just haven’t seen how it will be yet. I’m guessing the most workable would be something like temporary trains that eject cars at exit points and take on cars at entrance points, with humans expected to handle the ‘last mile’ bit. At least for awhile. Will be interesting to see how it turns out.
The major car companies already see this as inevitable – even though they don’t like it – and have already held at least two conferences in DC to discuss legal and safety ramifications. A friend of mine is studying this and managed to get invited to one of the conferences.
Autonomous cars are a good stopgap measure to deal with areas which ought to have a strong public transit infrastructure, but don’t.
In point of fact, I could see the rise of autonomous cars and their user fees creating a demand for better public transit.
i know! now you text your friends, someone invariably forgets to show up, somebody else’s phone rings in the middle and they begin to facetime, you call it a day, watch the bootleg on youtube, but discover the twist ending got ruined because of some meme you saw.
I guess I started this year in a really dark place, because I honestly don’t see anything changing for the better until some major cataclysm happens that forces society to ‘reset’ itself. Right now, I’m agged at the basic state of the world, agged at my job, and agged at the guy I’m dating.