A new phrase has entered our lives here. It's something morgan303 used once or twice and it really stuck. That phrase is "Warren Ellis Dystopian Future." It is a phrase used to encapsulate that moment when you witness something that, gazed upon objectively, you realise used to only reside in something like Transmetropolitan, or possibly Judge Dredd.
My first encounter with WEDF was as I sat on a bus a few years ago. Riding through Brunswick I look out the window, and there upon a red brick wall, in cerulean paint, is a slogan. That slogan was NO CLONING.
I find it is possible to get a hit of this at least once a day, if one is attuned to it. TV's rife with it. The howling video arena of Big Brother, that indulgent temple to mediocrity, is an obvious one. The current state of world politics, of course, is another. And then there's things like having an eight-year-old swaggering through a food court with a twenty-year-old's confidence while chatting breezily on a mobile phone in one hand and paying for a sub with the other, all with a bored familiarity that precludes the adult feeding him from receiving a thank-you or even a glance. There is an entire social and cultural shift there of positively tectonic proportions. When I was eight, we still got to have childhoods, and be actual, for-realz children. I realise, using history as a guide, that was perhaps a luxury. Boys not being considered men by age eight is the sign of a comfortable society. But we're still a comfortable society, and yet there's that kid. I dunno, it strikes me as unsettling.
When I was 20 a friend of mine and I had a conversation in which we made certain predictions. One, was that eventually terrorists were going to realise that aircraft loaded with avgas were massive flying bombs, and that within twenty years at the current rate of social change our children's role models would include porn stars. There was also a third one - these things arrive in triumvurates - but stuffed if I can remember what it was.
It's possible you're reading this and thinking I'm heralding the End of Days. I'm not. I do realise that we live in a very priveleged time, moreso than any other in history. Women, children and minorities have pretty much never had it so good. Dentistry and medical care have never been so comprehensive or readily available. Our collective morality has never been this honed or sensitive. But that wasn't the direction this train of thought took off on. Not so long ago humanity hit an incredible milestone: we landed a robot on Mars and it took video of the planet's surface from a first-person perspective. We had R2D2's happy snaps of an alien world! It looked like the Australian outback, but wrong. All purple skies and utter vacancy. Personally I was entralled just by the rocks, rocks which had lain there for thousands of years, while down on Earth we were busy having history.
But no, that's not the focus here. The focus is that when the Mars landing happened, it was relegated to a sidebar on page three of most of the newspapers, while Paris Hilton's feud with Nicole Richie was headline material.
We have people living beneath our streets, in Melbourne, because the housing situation has become so dire... largely as a result of landlords now conducting rental auctions, apparently. Organisations, including the US military, are hiring spec-fic writers to clue them in to what's going to happen next, because so many of them have been right. Said military has begun using commercial video games as a complex, two-fronted training and recruitment tool. Part Ender's Game, part The Last Starfighter, part Full Metal Jacket.
The way it all interconnects also gives me a dose of WEDF. Mobile phones are the Swiss Army knife taken to transcendent extremes. Speak to another country while you're on the bus, play video games that the computer you had as a kid couldn't run; pull information out of thin air via this global digital hivesystem thing called the 'Internet' in such a free-flowing way that it's basically an extension of your own brain capacity; swap content through thin air with someone else's unit; use it to pick up total strangers in the vicinity who are looking for sex without even seeing them; have it tell you when you need to go somewhere, do something, or call someone....
Homeless people with laptops leeching bandwidth to make cash on eBay selling stuff they found, or punching code. The idea that torture is okay. The return of the idea that if you've nothing to hide you've nothing to fear. Glass boxes on every desk that's a keypress away from a mind-numbing river of endless porn. The type of porn that gets made nowadays. What we, as a race or even just a Western culture, eroticise and how it's changed... even just between the Seventies and now... and what that says about who and where we are as a society. And, more importantly, where we're headed. It's the trend extrapolation thing that fascinates and disturbs me.
And, to get back to phones, language. The way language is even viewed nowadays, as a result of SMS, has changed enormously in the last ten to fifteen years. Admittedly kids are still being told they can't submit test results or essays in leet, but the people doing that naysaying will eventually be replaced by those kids. We may be looking at a world, in my lifetime, in which language and the shape of words loses its importance. What may survive will be the importance of meaning, not shape or structure or olde worlde grammatical conventions. My personal take is that if you lose the latter you'll actually lose a motherload of the former. Alternatively we may simply see a divide - a widening divide - between the educated and the uneducated, with a shift in language and even the further development of a 'lower-class' kind of 'cant' (which has always existed to a degree, admittedly.) Together with the corresponding widening divide between rich and poor, how does this colour the immediate future? Does it lead Australia, for example, down the road toward a quietly Balkanised society, and one with a developing class system to boot?
What's also interesting is how cheap highly advanced technology becomes. Bleeding edge stuff now will be scavenged from garbage cans and hock shops in five years. This makes diversely able technology available to everyone. Will that make people nervous?
And music, while we're at it. In fifty years (and I'm speaking in broad strokes here, but I trust you'll understand what I'm getting at) we've gone from singing about others (as in so many songs about people and deeds and places), to singing about the collective 'us' as a race (as in the Sixties), to singing about solidarity between 'you' and 'me' or even 'us' as a national society in the late Seventies (Thatcher) and (upbeat) Eighties, to singing about 'me' in the angsty Nineties (grunge, industrial) to singing about 'my stuff' to singing about the power my stuff gives me over you and everyone else.
Anyway, today's dose of WEDF was something I found on Joystiq:
A new wave of e-currency is almost upon us with the announcement from Blizzard that they are offering World of Warcraft themed Visa cards that turn real world spending into fake world game time. The card will take 1% of what you charge and turn it into minutes that you can use to visit Azeroth. So, if you want to rack up a lot of time, hand this to a big spender.
This comes on the heels of The Sims credit card, which will likely be something similar. MAKE magazine said we'd be seeing something like this a year ago, and it looks like they were right. Here's hoping they take our real world purchases and turn them into in game money, because they don't take credit cards in Ironforge, and some of the stuff we want is pretty darned expensive.
A further blurring of the line between real and virtual. The US government is taking moves to begin taxing people for the real-world value of their make-believe items. People are suing each other for theft of make-believe items. Now this.
Actually, oddly enoiugh, that was the third thing we predicted: VR junkies. That gaming tech would evolve to such a level that we'd begin to see people hanging around outside "VRcades" asking for a buck so they could get back into their fantasy world. Okay, so arcades are going the way of the dinosaur, but we weren't so far off the mark. Right now more people are running Blackrock Spire, in precisely the same fashion they have always run it, move for move, than Confucianism (or, indeed, many religions) has followers. By orders of magnitude.