Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Utterly Absurd

 

In 1914, in his novel The World Set Free, H.G. Wells wrote of a future featuring “atomic bombs,” in which “it was a matter of common knowledge that a man could carry about in a handbag an amount of latent energy sufficient to wreck half a city.” That was thirty-one years before Trinity — before the detonation of the first atomic weapon in the sands of southern New Mexico.

Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrentheit 451, written in 1953, described ear-buds, those ubiquitous little earphones everyone wears today. He called them “seashells,” but we’d recognize them today — as we would the insular cocoon they created for the perpetually distracted wife of that novel’s protagonist.

Arthur C. Clarke predicted the geostationary orbit, that distance from the Earth, about 22,236 miles, at which a satellite will circle the planet precisely once each day, and so appear fixed in the sky above the same point on the Earth’s equator. He introduced this idea in 1945, more than a decade before the Russians shocked the world by placing the first artificial satellite, the short-lived Sputnik, in a far lower orbit. (In 1960, Clarke would feature the still-nonexistent geosynchronous communication satellite in his short story I Remember Babylon, which presaged, among other things, satellite television and broadband pornography.)

Science fiction writers predict the future. That’s their job. They get it wrong more often than right (a good thing, considering the prominent role of alien invasions and global catastrophes in the genre) but they do sometimes get it right, or get it wrong, but in ways that foreshadow our evolving reality.

H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke are acknowledged giants of science fiction. Not so Albert Teichner, a World War II veteran who most likely passed away in 1989, though biographical information is scarce. But the handful of stories Teichner wrote includes Cerebrum, a fanciful account of Facebook and Snapchat which he penned in 1963.

No, of course, it isn’t really about modern social media, nor even the internet. But it does imagine a future in which everyone is networked with everyone else, their instant messaging coordinated by a central switching authority called, prosaically enough, “Central Switching.” It’s a world in which people are constantly connected, are distracted from the world around them by their non-stop mental messaging, and, having instantaneous access to every fact, know less and less, and grow lazier with each passing year.

Most interestingly, it’s a world in which one can be cut off from the great switching center, isolated from the perpetual stream of information and communication, and, so disconnected, become a social outcast and pariah.

That, at least, is nonsense. After all, it’s unimaginable, isn’t it, that the powers behind the internet could ever flex their digital muscles to reward and punish the consumers of their virtual wares?

I mean, Google, for instance. They wouldn’t do something like that.

There are 13 comments.

  1. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    E.M. Forster beat Teichner to the punch by about 50 years.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20190102114403/http://archive.ncsa.illinois.edu/prajlich/forster.html

    • #1
    • June 12, 2019, at 3:12 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  2. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette Post author

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    E.M. Forster beat Teichner to the punch by about 50 years.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20190102114403/http://archive.ncsa.illinois.edu/prajlich/forster.html

    Though with a different lesson, I think.

    • #2
    • June 12, 2019, at 3:19 PM PST
    • Like
  3. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette Post author

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    E.M. Forster beat Teichner to the punch by about 50 years.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20190102114403/http://archive.ncsa.illinois.edu/prajlich/forster.html

    Though with a different lesson, I think.

    Actually, I take that back: this revolution-in-the-face-of-technological-excess appears to be a theme as old as Ned himself.

    • #3
    • June 12, 2019, at 3:37 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. Annefy Member

    The book that has been haunting me of late is “This Perfect Day” by Ira Levin. (I’m not 100% sure I have the correct title. I read a lot of books like it back in the day)

    “Christ, Marx, Woods and Wei, lead us to this perfect day.”

    The reason it’s been on my mind is I find myself, and members of my family, ordering more and more from Amazon. In the book there’s no money, you simply produce a card and some central authority either denies or approves your purchase. (There were actual stores, though. Nothing like next day delivery.)

    It won’t be long before Amazon will be positioned perfectly to have a stranglehold on most retail commerce. And what happens if Amazon starts acting like Google, Chase, YouTube, etc. and refuses you service?

    • #4
    • June 12, 2019, at 6:06 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  5. James Gawron Thatcher

    Henry,

    What is the root of all the mentioned dystopias both the real ones and the fictional ones? In each case technology has “run wild” and is causing unforeseen problems. There is a belief at the root of all of this that goes back to the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is about man’s ethical & moral foundations for society. If we take this literally we can see that commerce, technology, and even science itself is the product of this vastly more just and productive society. However, confusion starts to occur as success gets ever greater. At first, it is obvious that it is the ethical/moral advance that is producing the material results. However, this is soon taken for granted and it is assumed that the reverse is true. The Frankensteinian material results create an ethical/moral advance. Marxism is a prime example of this confusion. This results in our alienation from our ethical/moral roots as we actually start searching for the solution to moral problems in ever more advanced technology. This is the rootless chaos that we start to fear as the technology rolls forward but is no longer controlled by any ethical/moral framework.

    In your example above how many times have you heard people discussing the new internet technology as if it is bringing about new individual freedom. Individual freedom is a moral/political belief that has nothing to do with technology. Thus we have rolled along under the illusion that access to the internet and computer ownership equals an increase in freedom. Sorry guys but the Is never produces the Ought. If we want free speech on the internet we must fight directly for the Ought. Then the full benefit of technology in service to an ethical/moral society can be released.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #5
    • June 12, 2019, at 7:45 PM PST
    • Like
  6. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette Post author

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    Henry,

    What is the root of all the mentioned dystopias both the real ones and the fictional ones? In each case technology has “run wild” and is causing unforeseen problems. There is a belief at the root of all of this that goes back to the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is about man’s ethical & moral foundations for society. If we take this literally we can see that commerce, technology, and even science itself is the product of this vastly more just and productive society. However, confusion starts to occur as success gets ever greater. At first, it is obvious that it is the ethical/moral advance that is producing the material results. However, this is soon taken for granted and it is assumed that the reverse is true. The Frankensteinian material results create an ethical/moral advance. Marxism is a prime example of this confusion. This results in our alienation from our ethical/moral roots as we actually start searching for the solution to moral problems in ever more advanced technology. This is the rootless chaos that we start to fear as the technology rolls forward but is no longer controlled by any ethical/moral framework.

    In your example above how many times have you heard people discussing the new internet technology as if it is bringing about new individual freedom. Individual freedom is a moral/political belief that has nothing to do with technology. Thus we have rolled along under the illusion that access to the internet and computer ownership equals an increase in freedom. Sorry guys but the Is never produces the Ought. If we want free speech on the internet we must fight directly for the Ought. Then the full benefit of technology in service to an ethical/moral society can be released.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Maybe.

    ;)

    I don’t know if I would relate technology-driven failure to paradigmatic shifts in the morality of a culture. (And, honestly, I’m not even sure if that’s what you’re doing.)

    I think success breeds overconfidence, and we’ve had a lot of success at solving the “easy” problems, like putting a man on the moon, inventing super-computers, and eradicating smallpox. The hard problems, the complex (in a formal sense) problems, often seem easy as well, but aren’t.

    I don’t know that there’s anything more sinister or ill-considered than understandable hubris involved in most of it.

    • #6
    • June 12, 2019, at 8:11 PM PST
    • Like
  7. JosePluma Thatcher

    Annefy (View Comment):

    The book that has been haunting me of late is “This Perfect Day” by Ira Levin. (I’m not 100% sure I have the correct title. I read a lot of books like it back in the day)

    “Christ, Marx, Woods and Wei, lead us to this perfect day.”

    The reason it’s been on my mind is I find myself, and members of my family, ordering more and more from Amazon. In the book there’s no money, you simply produce a card and some central authority either denies or approves your purchase. (There were actual stores, though. Nothing like next day delivery.)

    It won’t be long before Amazon will be positioned perfectly to have a stranglehold on most retail commerce. And what happens if Amazon starts acting like Google, Chase, YouTube, etc. and refuses you service?

    This Perfect Day is indeed the title of the book-one of my favorites.

     

    • #7
    • June 12, 2019, at 10:31 PM PST
    • 1 like
  8. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    **wrong thread

    • #8
    • June 12, 2019, at 11:09 PM PST
    • Like
  9. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette Post author

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    **wrong thread

    There are no wrong threads, only wildly off-topic comments.

    • #9
    • June 13, 2019, at 6:30 AM PST
    • 1 like
  10. James Gawron Thatcher

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I don’t know that there’s anything more sinister or ill-considered than understandable hubris involved in most of it.

    Henry,

    I don’t have a problem with anything that you are saying. I should make myself more clear. The 20th (and now the 21st) century can be characterized by a high formal nihilism that rejects all pure moral concepts. I am not implying that this is sinister but rather an inherent fault of the age in which we live. First, our hubris leads us to discount the moral. So sure are we that science and technology (in the West fueled by healthy commerce) will solve all problems we relegate the moral to an intellectual backwater almost ashamed to make the full argument. Then when things start to go off the path we panic and say that technology itself is causing problems. It is our lack of attention to the moral that causes the problems, not the technology. The internet is a fabulous boon to mankind. However, we must work out what liberty is going to be like in the information age. If you are somebody who has already decided the pure ideas that formed the Declaration and Constitution are just enlightenment relics then you aren’t likely to be a person who can handle what liberty should look like in the information age.

    My old joke was that I couldn’t care less if someone was thought to be a “renaissance man”. I wanted to meet somebody from the enlightenment.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #10
    • June 13, 2019, at 7:13 AM PST
    • 1 like
  11. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    **wrong thread

    There are no wrong threads, only wildly off-topic comments.

    No, I was listening to the Brad Thor “Bullwalk” interview in another window – until I had my fill and needed to comment… But was in the wrong window when I commented.

    • #11
    • June 13, 2019, at 7:12 PM PST
    • 1 like
  12. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    **wrong thread

    There are no wrong threads, only wildly off-topic comments.

    No, I was listening to the Brad Thor “Bullwalk” interview in another window – until I had my fill and needed to comment… But was in the wrong window when I commented.

    Well, the title of this thread is “Utterly Absurd”. The mistake is excusable. /:

    • #12
    • June 14, 2019, at 10:47 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  13. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Henry Racette: Science fiction writers predict the future. That’s their job.

    Nice article Henry, but although many people make this statement, it isn’t true. A science fiction writer’s job is to write interesting stories. If some piece of technology they write about comes to fruition some decades later, cool, but that’s not the point. If we never have warp drive, it doesn’t mean that Gene Rodenberry blew it. (I won’t argue with you if you say Rodenberry blew it on his expectations regarding capitalism.) And a guy who writes lousy stories is still a lousy writer even if one of his stories featured supersonic airplanes years before the jet engine was invented.

    • #13
    • June 15, 2019, at 11:00 AM PST
    • 1 like