Escape Velocity (Book Cover)

Mark Dery replies:

The future is obsolete, as quaintly archaic as the mothballed spacecraft in the Kennedy Space Center's Rocket Garden. We are, as J.G. Ballard so slyly put it, looking back on the Space Age and the heady visions of empire, inexhaustible resources, and quick, technological fixes to social problems it once symbolized.

I'm being at least partly ironic, of course; I take Thomas Hine's point, in "Facing Tomorrow: What the Future Has Been, What the Future Can Be", that our inability to conceive of the future in any other than dystopian terms is one sign that we're moribund as a culture. And it's important that progressive voices reclaim the future from the laissez-faire futurists, posthumanists (Ayn Rand Meets Locutus of Borg), and bearded evangelists of New Age cyberhype currently clouding our vision of things to come.

Nonetheless, I'm deeply suspicious of the commodity futures sold by George Gilder and other corporate flacks who use Wired as their bully pulpit because those futures (firmly fixed in the American mind asthe future) are part of the spectacle -- a media mirage meant to distract us from the power relations and social inequities of the present.

"Escape Velocity," like the best science fiction, is less about the future than it is about the present. I'm most interested in the future as a millennial bedtime story we tell ourselves about how technology is going to hoist us, at the last minute, out of the social and economic "Day of the Locust" we're fast approaching. Rather than debate the probability and practicability of mediagenic visions of off-world Edens, nanotechnology-enabled immortality, or (a personal favorite) the emergence of a noospheric "Gaian mind" (whatever that is) once all of humanity is plugged into the Net, I'm more interested in pointing out the jarring dissonance between these luminous futures and our economically polarized, socially atomized present -- which looks a lot more like South Central at the height of the L.A. riots than Nicholas Negroponte's Jetsonian Tomorrowland of digital butlers and supercomputing cufflinks.

So it's not my vision of the future that's bleak, but rather my vision of the present. The first step toward finding a way out of this place begins when we take a flamethrower to Gingrichian-Tofflerian laissez-faire futurism, which entrusts our collective fate to the tender mercies of the marketplace, or New Age "cyberbole" that would have us pin our hopes to a millennial blastoff. We have to relocate our cultural conversation about the promise of technology in the noisy, dirty here-and-now and begin to build a progressive, pragmatic futurism.

Brainstorms Tomorrow Mind to Mind