If you are over the age of 35, you witnessed first-hand how technology can change the world. You watched land lines give way to cell phones give way to smartphones. You watched hoodie’d nerds go from their slovenly basements to ruling Silicon Valley to discussing policies at Davos. You watched web technologies go from empowering the masses to controlling the masses.
You thought you were watching the birth of a new era. Instead, you saw a particle accelerator turning small, unseen problems into reality shredding arguments at superluminal speeds.
- Anti-vaxxers were a historical footnote. Now, they’re a voting bloc.
- The news was boring yet informative. Now, there are verified facts, unverified facts, propaganda, counter-propaganda, and AI fueled nightmare scenarios of disinformation across dozens of channels across dozens of types of media.
- There used to be the upper, middle, and lower classes. Now, there’s the ultra-rich funded corporatocracy, the rest of us , and a complex interplay of systems that cause income inequality reaching back to the Cretaceous Era.
We talk about the Industrial Age and the Information Age as though they were clear turning points. The kind of moments that the people within them acknowledged.
“Ah, yes, Winthrop, the Industrial Age is upon us!”
“Good show, Mortimer, let us sally forth into this glorious era, forthwith!”
Truth is, we can only see how the past leads into the present.
We can never see the present turn into the future.
But given how much we can now find out about the present, how deep down a rabbit hole of reality we can go, we find ourselves in a Permanent Now.
A time where information on any topic isn’t gathered slowly over time, but effectively dumped into the cortex like so much dirty laundry.
A time when almost every person you meet can have a radically different experience of the past and present, simply because of what rivers of information they drink from.
A time when age and time do not correlate with knowledge and wisdom.
In the Permanent Now, there is nothing we cannot learn, nothing we cannot understand with a little time, nothing we cannot eventually grasp. The past explodes into a billion strands of searchable data points, lines and graphs. We can weave those strands into any kind of present we want, for whatever version of reality we wish to inhabit.
The Permanent Now is also the death of the Future. The great futurist William Gibson calls this postalgia: “a condition where we have grown weary of an obsession with romantic and dystopian visions of the future. Instead, our focus is on now.”
It’s like a future got here and it wasn’t future-y enough and now we’re all future’d out.
But, you say, the youth were bathed in this acceleration from birth. Their worlds shift and twist at greater rates than our old brains can handle, right? They must be all, “The future’s gonna be awesome!”
Yeah….not so much. Between the olds before them effectively turning the planet into a Flaming Hot Cheeto, and them realizing they can’t really fix things without a bunch of people working together for a long time, they see the future the same way a janitor looks at a raging dumpster fire.
So, for now, we’re all in the Permanent Now, this locked groove in the vinyl of reality. The next great change may not be a massive leap forward in tech. It might be societal, biological, or it just might not happen in our lifetimes.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Or a good thing.
But it is, totally and completely, a thing.
Reasons I might be right:
- The processor wars are a hilarious footnote
- The resurgence of dumb phones and privacy and silencing social media
- ‘blitz-scaling’ went from “ooh shiny new future” to “oh god oh god what the hell were you thinking?”
Reasons I might be wrong:
- The Squishy Future cometh, with xenobots and CRISPR and gene-drives, oh my!
- Spintronics, twistronics, and valleytronics aren’t dance moves in a sci-fi novel but real life research into the next stage of computation
- When you and the people around you are all experiencing and augmented reality, any idea of a shared reality will fall apart.