I Remember the World of Tomorrow

The title of this post is a lyric from the Todd Rundgren song “Future”, which appears on his “Liars” CD from 2004. Being a child in the 50’s and a college student in the 60’s, that phrase struck me on a number of levels, beyond the paradox it represents. Without having to hear the lyrics I understood the song was a lament regarding the unfulfilled naive vision we all held 50 years ago of what the future would be.

UTOPIA

We envisioned a utopia of peace and freedom, flying cars, colonies on other planets, computers that existed in the background of daily life serving our every whim, eternal youth, and everlasting health. With robots liberating us from the grind of mundane or oppressive work, we believed we’d have time on our hands to pursue a life of art, culture, philosophy, and the like — in a clean, shiny, thriving, modern world of tomorrow. Space travel would be available to all.

The Jetson’s in 1962 may have been a television cartoon series, but it also spoke to a collective dream, a hope we here in America shared — even if we did so with a foolish innocence. Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland, which opened in 1955, the 1964 New York’s World’s Fair, and Disney’s Epcot Center, first conceived in 1966 — these were all hopeful visions of a future world that would be utopian in nature.

LOSS OF INNOCENCE

The problem with those particular perspectives is, they were not only absurdly innocent, they were also dangerously narrow. We hoped that the emergence of technology itself would elevate the condition of mankind, perhaps even the very nature of man.

That foolhardy innocence of America has been dismantled piece by piece beginning in the 60’s, into the 70’s, and to now — the result of assassinations, riots, wars, terrorism, and global environmental decline that may in fact now threaten our very existence.

TECHNOLOGY: SERVANT OR MASTER

At the same time technology has advanced in ways we couldn’t even comprehend 50 to 60 years ago. It did not, in and of itself, elevate the condition of man. There are some who would say that today, the computer does not serve us — we serve the computer.

While I fully believe that certain aspects of technology have advanced well beyond man’s ability to keep pace, contributing to a great deal of the overriding stress in today’s civilization — I do not believe that technology is a bad thing. I am not a neo-luddite. I believe technology is capable of great good and great evil. The uncertain component is the human component.

CAN WE, SHOULD WE

There is a line from Jurassic Park, spoken by Jeff Goldblum’s character, the chaotician Ian Malcolm, which resonates with me in a similar manner, as does the title of this post. Speaking in the midst of the catastrophe that InGen had created by cloning the dinosaurs, Ian said, “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Today, like no other time in the history of mankind, I believe technology places that most critical inquiry at the very center of our lives: could we vs. should we? As we now pull back the veil on bioengineering, nanotechnology, brain-computer interface (BCI), we need to seriously delve into this “could we / should we” question.

I am not looking at this from a moral perspective; I will leave that to others so inclined. I am considering this strictly from a survival of the species point of view.

GREATEST ERA OR END OF DAYS

As James Martin, one of our great modern thinkers and author of the “The Meaning of the 21st Century” points out in his most optimistic and uplifting book, man stands on the threshold of either the greatest era in human history, or the end of life as we know it — and the outcome rests in our hands.

He acknowledges that this profound conclusion has been reached before in history, but he goes into most convincing detail to demonstrate why this was simply not true in the past, and prove, arguably beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is an absolute certainty today.

Martin’s book is engaging, compelling, and hyper-relevant. It should be required reading for everyone, especially every corporate, government, and academic leader in the world.

TECHNOLOGY & SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

This post is not intended as an infomercial for James Martin, nor is it a negative doom & gloom condemnation of today’s world. However, I cannot ignore the social responsibility we all have with regard to technology.

Rest assured that we have no way to comprehend the magnitude of that which we do not know about the future. Compared to the 1950’s, we have far less leeway today with regard to the naiveté we can afford to carry forward into time. It could prove devastating.

Those who create, manufacture, and distribute technology, as well as those of us who use it — we must all remain mindful of the balance between “can we” and “should we”, and vigilant that we do not tip that scale. If we pay prudent attention to these two questions, take the responsible steps to restore what imbalance we may have created to date, by ceasing the rape of our planet, and taking serious steps to reverse the threat of global warming — our future will be a great era of humankind.


10 Responses to “I Remember the World of Tomorrow”

  1. The difference between can we and should we. So small and so often overlooked, and so critically important to our future, to the shape of the world we will leave our children and grandchildren, if we leave them any at all.

    Powerful words for powerful thoughts Rob. Thank you for sharing them and reminding me that there are troubles out there much larger than my own.

  2. This was a marvellous response to the prompt… so well-thought-out. I agree we are at a critical point in world history, and that while there is potential for destruction, there is also the potential for that “great era” emerging.

  3. There are those that think the end of humans would be a good thing. Whether to bring about a new religious ruler or because humans deserve extinction. Yet some of us see hope in technology, not in extending our lives but in bringing about an era where more is shared and less is taken.

  4. This is a thoughtful, well-wrought response to the prompt. My husband, a professor of engineering, once developed a course called “Introduction to Professional Engineering”, which examined many of the points that you cover. His course was essentially about the morality of the choices an engineer faces – in whom he or she works for, what that work does or does not do for the world.

    I will buy James Martin’s book.

  5. Could we or should we is a profound question for each of us. Great post!

  6. Your reflections on this week’s prompt add depth to the discussion, well beyond poetry. Add the issue of third world development, and the issues become even more comlex. Do we, as Americans, have either the will or leaders with integrity and commitment to confront these issues? Thank you for writing so thoughtfully of technology and our future as a society. I’ve put Martin’s book on my list. For even as I love to play with technology, I haven’t thought as much about the “should we” aspects. And that’s the personal level. Ensuring that people have access and skills adds another layer. Putting technolgoy into the context of our society’s future digs deeper.

  7. It has become such a pleasure to come to your site. Your SS response was not only thoughtful, thorough, intelligent, but also prolific. As crafters and artists the breadth of our scope is often challenged and here you display just how deeply and evocatively we are moved and how wise our cognitive process is. All of our choices have cause and affect, as artists we are charged with seeing all sides of the prism and stretching our minds. The moral ethics of the future and technology are imperative discussions. thank you so very much for your post.

  8. thank you for the todd mention,, he is one of the true intellects in the music world,, and i feel painfully overlooked as such…

    each and every generation begins with a naive vision,, they plot and they plan and spend many a drunk hour correcting all of the worlds wrongs… i for one,, at this point in my life,, have only questions,, and no answers…

  9. […] From I remember the world of tomorrow by Rob Kistner Those who create, manufacture, and distribute technology, as well as those of us who […]

  10. Wow, all this from Todd Rundgren. Amazing.

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