Justin Lincoln's notational productions. Thoughts, text, images, sounds, and videos.
But I take it for granted that social change is driven primarily by emergent technologies, and probably always has been. No one legislates technologies into emergence—it actually seems to be quite a random thing. That’s a vision of technology that’s diametrically opposed to the one I received from science fiction and the popular culture of science when I was twelve years old.
In the postwar era, aside from anxiety over nuclear war, we assumed that we were steering technology. Today, we’re more likely to feel that technology is driving us, driving change, and that it’s out of control. Technology was previously seen as linear and progressive—evolutionary in that way our culture has always preferred to misunderstand Darwin.
You don’t see technology evolving that way?
What I mainly see is the distribution of it. The poorer you are, the poorer your culture is, the less cutting-edge technology you’re liable to encounter, aside from the Internet, the stuff you can access on your cell phone.
In that way, I think we’re past the computer age. You can be living in a third-world village with no sewage, but if you’ve got the right apps then you can actually have some kind of participation in a world that otherwise looks like a distant Star Trek future where people have plenty of everything. And from the point of view of the guy in the village, information is getting beamed in from a world where people don’t have to earn a living. They certainly don’t have to do the stuff he has to do everyday to make sure he’s got enough food to be alive in three days.
On that side of things, Americans might be forgiven for thinking the pace of change has slowed, in part because the United States government hasn’t been able to do heroic nonmilitary infrastructure for quite a while. Before and after World War II there was a huge amount of infrastructure building in the United States that gave us the spiritual shape of the American century. Rural electrification, the highway system, the freeways of Los Angeles—those were some of the biggest things anybody had ever built in the world at the time, but the United States really has fallen far behind with that.
Is computer technology not heroic?
I do think it’s a really big deal, although the infrastructure is not physical. There’s hardware supporting the stuff, but the digital infrastructure is a bunch of zeros and ones—something that amounts to a kind of language.
It looks to me as though that prosthetic-memory project is going to be what we are about, as a species, because our prosthetic memory now actually stands a pretty good chance of surviving humanity. We could conceivably go extinct and our creations would live on. One day, in the sort of science-fiction novel I’m unlikely ever to write, intelligent aliens might encounter something descended from our creations. That something would introduce itself by saying, Hey, we wish our human ancestors could have been around to meet you guys because they were totally fascinated by this moment, but at least we’ve got this PowerPoint we’d like to show you about them. They don’t look anything like us, but that is where we came from, and they were actually made out of meat, as weird as that seems.