Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Are We There Yet? (The Future)

Tyler Cowen now has a post where he observes that this sale is a step along a road he'd pointed out in a post from Nov 2012 which closed with the observation: "There is this funny thing called antitrust law, but I think these companies [Amazon, Google, Apple, etc.] are popular enough, and associated closely enough with cool products — and sometimes cheap products — to get away with this."

That observation is pointing in the direction of something I've been thinking about recently.

We've all grown up seeing various visions of the future depicted in the media. I was a kid in the 50s and on into the 60s. I saw Walt Disney's vision of the future, with an endless supply of cheap nuclear power, and I saw The Jetsons on TV, which high-tech conveniences everywhere. At the end of the 60s, when I'd become a young adult, there was Kubrick's 2001. Well, the real 2001 wasn't very much like Kubrick's film. No HAL, nor anything remotely like it, and space travel to earth orbits had not become routine, much less a moon colony.

But, here's the thing: These visions of the future were about technology, but tacitly assumed that society was organized by the same social institutions. Along comes Blade Runner (1982) and those institutional structures have changed at bit for the worse. Yes, technology has advanced, but social institutions have taken a turn for the worse.

But, is chasing down replicates so different from looking for terrorists in every corner?

It's those institutional structures I'm thinking about. Are they changing, have they changed, for better or worse? The absorption of old media by new (e.g. Washington Post being bought up by Amazon) isn't quite there. Nor, for that matter, is the encroaching security state with a prison-industrial complex, and the privitization of public schools along with the rise of for-profit higher ed, the insulation of investment banking from political regulation and social accountability, but we're getting uncomfortably close to a rather nasty restructuring of basic social institutions.

Heck, maybe we are there, and we're doomed.

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