14 May 2007

2017 AD - Preoccupations with Lice & Television

NBC has a program about life in 2017. Based on the article they have on their website, they are taking the usual route with such predictions: focusing on machine or information technology and extrapolating past trends.

To me, the more interesting predictions focus on social technology and disruptions rather than the continuation of trends.

The greatest invention in the West is one still needed in many parts of the Middle East: religious tolerance in lieu of religious standards. The acceptance of debt as normal changed the 20th century economy at least as much as the automobile.

I would argue that so many futurists focus on machine technology because social technology and practices seem invisible. We use credit cards or take out loans to buy a home? Didn't we always? We allow religious freedom? Well of course, isn't that what we've always done? Shop for entertainment or watch TV for news? Well of course.

Csikszentmihalyi, in his book Finding Flow, writes that "in thirteenth century French villages - which were among the most advanced in the world at the time - the most common leisure pursuit was still that of picking lice out of each other's hair. Now, of course, we have television."

A more interesting question about the future than what technology we use is where will lie the locus of control for our attention. Will media continue to control our attention? Grooming products? Will performance enhancement drugs make us even more obsessed with sex as a culture or less?

Those who control your attention control the direction of the world. Teachers and religious leaders and scientists and media producers control our picture of reality today and, consequently, our goals.

The locus of attention and who controls it is always the most defining aspect of any culture. Predictions about that seem to me much more interesting than predictions about machine or information technology. But then, NBC has plans to capture your attention and probably wouldn't want to mention that. Instead, they try to keep your attention with predictions about computing power. One can hardly blame them for trying. Or from directing your attention away from the fact that they are trying to capture yours.

1 comment:

Cody McKibben said...

Interesting thoughts, Ron. Do you think politicians' power is waning? Because it definitely seems like people are not paying attention to them (but perhaps it has always been that way! =)