December 10, 2010

WikiLeaks futureshock as radical presentism

I've been thinking a lot lately about Cory Doctorow's radical presentism, the notion that science fiction is essentially an extrapolation and commentary on present conditions. It's consequently a way for us to reflect on contemporary life and how, in very profound and disruptive ways, we already dwell in a kind of 'future world.'

Certainly, the present moment is yesterday's future. And what Doctorow suggests is that it should often be interpreted, analyzed and celebrated through that lens. If we never stop and think about the present moment as a kind of 'future attained', then we will forever be looking forward to something out of our grasp, as something perpetually elusive. The future is, by definition, a time that we can never reach. Thus, it would be prudent of us to frequently take pause and reflect on the present. This will not only enhance our appreciation of our society and how we're adapting to technological and sociological change, but it will also inform our predicative abilities.

Indeed, radical presentism can also indicate the ways in which we are having difficulty adapting to changing conditions. As Charlie Stross recently observed, we are right smack dab in the middle of a Tofflerian futureshock. We need to be aware of this to understand why we feel so unsettled and why we don't seem to have a firm grasp or acceptance of new social norms. Doing so will also help us to avoid knee-jerk reactionary behavior and contrarianism.

Take the recent WikiLeaks controversy. Now that's futureshock. The whistle-blowing site is freaking people out on account of its ability to make sensitive information highly accessible (a progression for freedom of speech), the way in which it represents the next stage of (unfiltered) information gathering and reporting (a progression for freedom of the press), its function as a governmental watch-dog (a progression for democratic accounability), and how it's proving impossible to shut-down (unprecedented informational resilience due to novel technologies, in this case the highly distributed and redundant nature of the internet). Not to mention the fact that it's a bold step in the direction of the transparent society. Participatory panopticon, anyone? Sousveillance. Pick your term; it's happening.

Other examples of radical presentism applied include such things as the dramatic appearance of seemingly miraculous technological gadgetry (e.g. iPad, GPS) and convergent technologies (e.g. augmented reality). It was not too long ago that devices of this nature were considered quite futuristic. But they're here.

Radical presentism also helps us identify how social networking, communications technologies, and the web in general have altered intra- and interpersonal behaviour. We are becoming progressively networked, but at the same time suffering from decreased attention spans and internet addiction. The informational demands on our brains are through the roof; the amount of data a single person is processing in a single day is nothing short of astounding.

So, give it a try. Apply radical presentism to your daily life and discover the future in the moment. I guarantee you'll see things through a different lens, one that will help you appreciate how we're living in a kind of future world—and how we're coping with accelerating change.


ZarPaulus said...

Just don't claim that Wikileaks is a good thing, people have died because of it.

Unknown said...

Brilliant work George!!!...

I would like some evidence in support of ZarPaulus's above claim that people have died because of Wikileaks...

And while we are debating it, let's not forget that innocent people (e.g. a Reuters journalist and cameraman) have died for sure because of the US government actions, as documented by some of the previous Wikileaks. That is a fact.

Martin said...

died? what are you talking about ?

Unknown said...

"the notion that science fiction is essentially an extrapolation and commentary on present conditions"

That literature -- science fiction being part of it -- is in most cases about us, our time, our society, our human matters of interest, and *not* about the future (or the aliens), ... well, this is long known. This is as normal and usual as it can be, and calling it "radical" is not appropriate.

"Apply radical presentism to your daily life"

I will *not* do this. I will keep most aspects of my life seperated from the public (Julian Assange and his followers should leave me alone, or, otherwise, there will be war).

There are other ways of seeing things through a different lens, and, looking at the things around me, I already live in some kind of future world.

One last thing: Thank you for the opportunity of reading your entertaining website and for the generosity of having accepted some comments. Farewell, George!

ZarPaulus said...


Yani said...

What rubbish Zar...

I assume you mean...

'The leak exposed massive corruption by Daniel Arap Moi, and the Kenyan people sat up and took notice. In the ensuing elections, in which corruption became a major issue, violence swept the country. "1,300 people were eventually killed, and 350,000 were displaced."'

You think wikileaks was the first people in Kenya knew of this?

This stuff was all well known within Kenya. What you should be asking is why when the US knew about it didn't they take strong action to do something? Not enough oil there to have a human rights war?