Thursday, August 16, 2007


An interview with William Gibson has been going around in my head and I haven’t even read “Neuromancer” yet. Here’s the URL:

Here are some quotes:
“I basically agree with Mr. Bigend in "Pattern Recognition" when he argues that our present has become so unutterably brief and ever-changing that we have no ground upon which we can stand and project a future historical arc as H.G. Wells and Robert Heinlein were able to. The short form of that is, none of us know what the hell is going to happen next.

“If I'd gone into a publisher's office in 1981 and pitched a novel set in a world with a lethal, sexually transmitted virus that was going to take down huge numbers of human beings, and in that same world, it was determined that we'd completely thrown the climate of the planet out of whack -- not only would they not have bothered but they probably would have called security. No one except possibly the late John Brunner, in his brilliant novel "The Sheep Look Up," has ever described anything in science fiction that is remotely like the reality of 2007 as we know it....

“I've always felt a serious obligation to be absolutely agnostic about emergent technologies. I think a case can be made for technology being morally neutral. I think what scares people most about new technologies -- it's actually what scares me most -- is that they're never legislated into being. Congress doesn't vote on the cellular telephony initiative and create a cellphone system across the United States and the world. It just happens and capital flows around and it changes things at the most intimate levels of our lives, but we never decided to do it. Somewhere now there's a team of people working on something that's going to profoundly impact your life in the next 10 years and change everything. You don't know what it is and they don't know how it's going to change your life because usually these things don't go as predicted.”

In a word, “blind-sided” is the name of the game. How does a person know how to plan? And look how much the people who hang onto previous paradigms have been wrong: the rewards of slaving along with a lousy job for a big corporation because you can retire with lots of money; the value of SUV’s; the unimportance of reservation Indians; the inevitability of Marxist paradigms; the sovereign remedy of antibiotics.

On the other hand, “Small is Beautiful” has worked for me and maybe much of the technology is for the small, like the $100 Kermit-the-Frog crank-up computers for kids in Third World countries. But such unforeseen consequences! What if Al-Quaida equips all their people with these gizmos? Just the same, I say over and over again that the future is always with us in some subtle unseen way that can’t be controlled. Because if we could see it and control it, we’d try to maintain the status quo.

A good example is a recent essay by Christopher Hitchens (getting to be a hero of mine) noting that he himself was startled by the percentage of his audiences confirming that they are atheists and always were. (Although I get bugged all over again at equating aTHEism (not believing God) with aRELIGION which is pretty much impossible for humans, though they are forever defining it to suit themselves: going to church, praying, making sacrifices, planting flags, whatever. Reporters say, “Huh?” In fact, that seems to be a pretty good response for a lot of things. We thought malls were everything, now they’re rotting and disappearing. We thought Big Box Stores were “it.” But now they’re failing. (I was in the GF KMart a few weeks ago and found it with empty shelves and wandering employees.) So is it the Internet next? Maybe -- maybe not.

Someone from my high school was trying to find me in order to make contact with a classmate in common. He tried all the high tech stuff but couldn’t find my email. Finally he put a message in a comment on my blog and included his phone number, so I called him up -- which he thought was pretty unconventional. He sorta hinted it would nice if I were more accessible, say, posted my email. I suggested that since he knew where I lived, he could have just called telephone information the old-fashioned way. Sometimes the future is a matter of doubling back. When I tried to email HIM, his email had one of those blockers on it.

Some “Sharper Edge” type techie folks went to the same third world folks who are using micro-economics and a host of other small survival strategies. Like “telephone ladies” who walk around their village with a cell phone in their apron pocket so that places with no copper-wire phone ever can now make cheap calls by stopping her and giving her some coins. No slots -- no remote operator. And there are NO pay phones here anymore, because everyone has a cell phone. “What do you really need?” the techies asked villagers. Flashlights. So the kids could get to school before it is light, since they have to walk a long way and there are tigers along the path. But they can’t afford batteries. So the techies invented an LED flashlight, extra-bright, solar-powered. You leave it on the windowsill all day and then you can walk home safely.

Have you heard about “blue ear pig virus” yet? Worse than bird flu, killing pigs in huge amounts in China, no vaccine for it, farmers selling their pigs quickly before more people find out about it so the pigs are traveling all over. So far no jump to humans, but it’s easier to catch stuff from pigs than chickens. What about the bees? We still haven’t solved the bee dilemma. My premise is that while we’re watching the big picture, Armageddon is in the foodnotes. That’s a typo -- I meant “footnotes” but maybe my fingers know something.

But I still hang on to my notion of continuous apocalypse -- a little of the status quo always going under the wheel even as the new comes up on the other side. We cannot continue on the same path anyway. But apocalypse is based on the idea of the one and the best, the “me” and the “we.” If the me is just one point of consciousness in the cosmic we, then destruction is only transformation. We should go forward in the Buddhist manner. Or as Margaret Fuller, Transcendentalist, once said grandly, “I accept the Universe!” And Carlyle, being told this, remarked, “By God, she’d better!”

I wonder whether the Valier library has a copy of “Neuromancer.” They’re not big on sci-fi, but who knows? Better check for “The Sheep Look Up” while I’m at it. Might be able to borrow it through the reservation library -- Blackfeet love sci-fi. It’s been that kind of world to them for the last two hundred years or so.

You know, in the past the planet has swapped magnetic ends a few times: the South Pole changing to the North Pole's "polarity." No one knows what that would mean to creatures on the planet. Maybe it's already happening.

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