Things I Read: Putting the people back into Utopia

Gnomes plan for utopia

Make technological utopia easier with this one weird trick

But it’s kind of inevitable, really: when you ask “how can technology make a better future?” you foreclose (whether deliberately or not) on the possibility of making that better future with anything other than new technology; this is one of the epistemological bear-traps of technological determinism, which Kelly and many other tech-centric futures people have been circling around for decades.

But it’s easily enough stepped out of; all you need to do is take the “technology” specifier out of the question, and/or avoid asking it of people who identify with technology in either a entrepreneurial or quasi-religious manner (no beer for you, Ray Kurzweil). By way of example, here’s my own late submission to Kelly’s call, a 101-word haiku describing a desirable future:

No one goes hungry. No one sleeps outdoors, unless they choose to. No one is conscripted as a child-soldier. No one is maimed by land-mines made on the other side of the world. No one is exploited for the betterment or gain of another. No one is a second class citizen to anyone. Nothing is wasted. Things – whether material or digital – are made with care and thought, and are made to last a long, long time. We appreciate a plurality of systems of value alongside the legacy cash-money system, which we keep going as a honey-trap distraction for the instinctively acquisitive.

If that’s not utopian and desirable, I don’t know what it is. And as implausible, unlikely and peacenik-pie-in-the-sky as you might (very reasonably) choose to call it, it is possible — because it doesn’t require us to make a single damned invention or piece of software we don’t already have. We have everything we need already; it’s just, as Gibson didn’t quite say, not yet evenly distributed. That means my little scenario above is intrinsically moreplausible than any future that requires a technological novum to make it work, because [Occam’s Razor]. And if you’re aching to say “but hang on, you’ll never get that to work because getting people to change the way they do things isn’t at all simple”, then congratulations –you’ve internalised the very point I’ve been trying to make all along. Have a cookie.