“How prepared are you for the future?” I asked at a recent business seminar.
“I surf the Net and hang out on the Web,” someone volunteered.
“Splendid. How else are you preparing for the coming years?”
“I use a videophone and have a satellite dish,” someone else joined in.
“This is encouraging. What else?” I asked.
“I have a wrist organizer and one of these new palm-size computers.”
“Haven’t you forgotten something else?” I asked.
Everyone looked around puzzled.
“Do you mean virtual reality?”
“You have told us about the tools you have acquired,” I said, “but you have left out some equally important items. What about your lifestyles and values, your work modes and eating habits and civic activities? What good is tinkering with 21st century machines if you are still parked in mid-20th century lives?”
There is a simplistic assumption around these days that to blaze forward, all you have to do is switch on a computer, surf the Net, engage in some trendy cybertalk and then, presto, you are magically teleported to the future. You are with it.
The fact is that deploying new technology is only one of the steps needed to soft-land in the future. Smart machines do not automatically catalyze us to smarter lives. Switching on the future entails more effort. For example, what good is going global on the Internet if your real-time allegiances remain nationalistic and ethnocentric? You can gloat over your portable equipment, but if you continue to run in place in unportable lifestyles, marinating for decades in the same apartment, the same city, the same country, the same profession, the same social ties, how portable are you?
You can be hyperteched with smart labor-saving machines, but if you are still toiling long hours, you are operating at the archaic level of dumb mechanical machines.
How much are you really benefiting from your futuristic gizmos if you embrace anti-future public policies?
The unbalanced focus on technology pervades all areas of today’s society. Every day across the United States, thousands of people flock to electronic trade shows and convention centers to make contact with the latest Tomorrowland technology. On national television “Future This” and “Future That” programs abound, each striving to outgadget the other. Where are the conventions and the national TV programs highlighting the equally important social transformations?
The fact is that some of the most spectacular advances of our times are unfolding in our values and in our emotional and social lives. The accelerating phase-out of patriarchy and puritanism, the proliferation of fluid lifestyles and flex work schedules, the increasing expectation of a vigorous long life, the shift from command decision-making to power-sharing, the leapfrog from national loyalties to a global consciousness.
These and other social revolutions are just as powerful, just as glamorous and futuristic as the new technology and they demand just as much attention and adaptation as does the new hardware.
In fact the new technology and the new social revolution are part of the same continuum. Sooner or later, each reinforces the other. Without the new technology, social progress would not unfold so quickly and without the new values, technology can be all too often used as a weapon to spread bigotries or monopolize power.
To free-fall into the future takes more than simply acquiring more gadgets. We need the self-assembling interface of new technology and new values so we can surge ahead to the marvels of the new century.
Published by the Los Angeles Time on February 16, 1998
Re-reading this piece makes me realize more & more I have been too hard on FM, as he on top of his other responsibilities didn’t have time to deal with the numerous people contacting him– though he did have time for this topic, we discussed this issue most when we talked.
Since then it has become apparent there is a way to change the situation: promoting alternative families; alternative-faithbased (Hindi; Buddhist; even Islamic [i.e. Sufi, and other exotic) families; gay & bi families; and so forth. The polyamory network is in fact growing, albeit far slower than some of us 1968-types thought it would. However with patience & fortitude the situation can be changed. The main difficulty is attempting to ignore unconcealed hostility of those traditionalists who sense their Nomos– i.e. their old-fashioned core beliefs– are being threatened. Their nostalgia is comprehensible: they cannot foresee the future of their families so they hang on rather poignantly to the past; to memories of deceased family members and friends especially. To when they were all younger.
So if one can understand that, and how we have to be very patient, we can unquestionably change today’s situation. Frankly, I am not patient or forward looking– nothing like professional transhumanists are. But I’m stubborn, and stubborness in anyone can be harnessed just as depression can. A bio of Winston Churchill, the Great Bulldog, wrote of how he would bounce back from depression to inspire the British to resist tyranny is a manner similar to how he resisted depression. Naturally, Churchill was far more conservative than even most conservatives are in the 21st century yet the meaning of tyranny and tyranny’s antipode has itself changed. I can remember back to the year 1960: if someone had run a gay program on TV way back when, they would have been arrested and or fined, and their film confiscated– today those involved get Emmy Awards for gay shows.
So though it changes slowly by the clocks of our still-short lifetimes, via a cosmic timeframe it has moved along rapidly since 1960.
Had to think about this piece a long time. It does appear to be excessively nebulous at first glance, but one has to reckon with FM’s range of interests as a comprehensive transhumanist and whatever else he could be incompletely termed. I once asked him, “you are a post-mystic, aren’t you?”;
FM answered: “but I am so much more. Why limit it to that?”
So then the question arises how exactly does one go about changing oneself and not merely one’s gadgetry?: as Henry Gibson used to say, “with great difficulty”
— difficult, not impossible. IMO changing the nuclear family is the key and though FM didn’t have time to think deeply enough about it, since back then a way has emerged: to reach out to traditionalists as transhumanists are today engaging Mormons. Other faiths (and do not forget how family is virtually synonymous with faith) can be contacted, with the caveat they are going to be less receptive than the industrious, materially dynamic though quite old-fashioned Mormons.
In the thread concerning FM’s piece Intimacy In a Fluid World, I touched on the above, and the long frustrating timeframe involved. However since IMO it is the key to changing today’s stagnant situation, it is unavoidable.
There is no purpose in being disingenuous with traditionalists; and they aren’t going to change, no matter what any outsider says unless they want to, naturally. But as FM was one of the few to actively comprehend, the material world cannot be changed without changing social ‘structures’, configurations of people, the complex, complicated constellations of relationships & connections.
Religion is here to stay for a long while, however if one is serious about change, then religion has to change; contrary to what FM claimed, religion has to be modernized as there is at this time and for the foreseeable future no chance of substantially reducing faith-based thinking & living– too wrapped up in the nuclear family centered lifestyle of hundreds of years ago, plus the extended family lifestyle of thousands of years duration.
So by default, religionists have to be contacted (as the Mormons have already been) and told they have to alter their lifestyles if they want keep up with the 21st century. Worth a shot!