Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Future Shock

I have a feeling that the world is no longer progressing towards something, more that it's just changing without direction. I think the common definition of the future is that it is the place we are going, as a culture and as individuals. The future is a point in time ahead of now, where things will be better. It's an intrinsic part of the dominant American ideology that we progress and improve in so doing. Keep in mind that for most of human history, the future really didn't exist as a positive, cohesive place we were traveling towards. It was commonly held that if tomorrow was different than today, things were going wrong.

In a recent interview, Cory Doctorow made the point that if one were to compare stone axes from 15,000BC to 10,000BC, they would not be able to detect any noticeable differences. For 5,000 years humans never thought to change the ax or make better tools. It worked as an ax, and our ancestors evidently thought, "Ax hack wood. Ax chop head. Ax good. Screw improvements."

In ancient Egyptian times, one of the most exalted gods was called Mi'at. This was both a god and an expected state of affairs. One of the chief charges of the office of Pharaoh was to maintain Mi'at. Mi'at could be roughly translated into a term like "status quo" or "make sure tomorrow is exactly like today." Even in the East, the primary role of the Chinese Emperor was to maintain peace and stability—to keep things unchanging and constant. In the West, throughout the Middle Ages, humans thought about the future in very similar terms. All of the great truths about mathematics, philosophy, and art had been revealed by Aristotle and his bearded, bare-chested ilk. Answers for questions concerning government, social order and spirituality were codified in the Bible. Different kings ruled, empires rose and fell, things changed but did not change into anything other than more change. The concept of future, as we now think of it, hadn't been invented yet.

The Copernican Revolution, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment laid the groundwork for the Modern Project and the idea of a future was born as a result (I realize this is a totally unqualified statement, but, oh well). Things started to get "better." We could look at generations past and say, with confidence, "Boy, I'm sure glad I don't live way back then. It's so much better now." History became important. For much of our past, we really weren't interested in knowing much about the generations before us, because, after all, they very similar. With Modernity, we became increasingly interested in how humanity organized and reorganized itself. Whether change came upon a culture suddenly or gradually. Logically, for humanity to have a collective future to progress towards it needed a cohesive past to recede from.

The moved-towards-future concept is still powerful today, but I think it's take on shades of plasticity and change without direction. These changes fall broadly under the Post Modern school of thinking, but I think they have more broad implications. I don't know if this is necessarily a bad thing. I've heard compelling arguments made for either case. One thing, however, that gives me pause, is camel racing.

Now the camels have robot jockeys. Robot jockeys! I remember Robot Jox. I saw it at Showcase Cinemas the week it came out. My friend Jesse and I went. I can still remember my amazement at how empty the theater was. Where were all the people, I thought. This is Robot Jox! It was so awesome. Giant, stop-motion mechs sawing the hell out of each other in a post-apocalyptic war zone with Gary Graham, the dude from Alien Nation, as the protagonist! Can it get any more awesome than that? Check out the clip below and revel in the ball-flattening awesomeatuude:

And now, robot jocks are a reality. Observe the picture below:


Notice anything strange? For me, it's the fact that in one picture there are so many strange, contradictory, and flat-out scary implications it makes my head spin. The world is changing, but I don't think it's progressing any more. I think people have given up on the idea of the future, and are instead reveling in the absolute unpredictability of now. A digital picture of robots riding camels while people wearing millennia's old religious garb should be proof enough for anyone that we are well and beyond the looking glass.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what an awesomely bad movie. chain saw falice you say? oh yes, it's got those...