When history becomes our future and time has no meaning
I’ve been thinking about the future a lot lately, and more importantly the relationship between society and media. For the record, I believe that the future in general is going to be really amazing going forward but not without some serious turbulence in transition. This, of course, is barring a societal reset which in the grand scheme of things seems entirely likely given our past. In order to really understand the future, we have to get some sort of grasp on our past and what our actions throughout history seem to propagate into our (repeated) futures.
I’m going to warn you in advance that this post is going to delve into the fringe area of thinking. In order to really grasp the totality of the subject matter, we really have to entertain quite a lot of things that up until now we’re more than happy to just ignore. The best way to ignore stuff, it seems, is to just nervously laugh and say “Of course it’s a conspiracy theory! That person is just laughable…” which really is our collective selves being made very uncomfortable over some realizations we’d rather not entertain. Who likes being lied to? It’s much easier to just pretend we’re the sane people and laugh off anything to the contrary. But let’s take a bit here and put that aside… you pretty much have to if you want to get a glimpse of the future.
I’m not looking for anyone to agree or disagree with what I am going to write in this post. It’s just a train of thought I’m putting down here, because these are thoughts that have been prominent on my mind for a number of years. There’s far more behind it than what you’ll read here, but I’m just not going to get into deeper details. You can either take it or leave it as you please.
For a little while, let’s suspend disbelief and entertain the notion that the way the world and universe really works turns out to be quite different than we believed.
Take for instance the premise of copyright in general. Originally it was supposed to be something along the lines of seventeen years of amnesty for the creator before the work fell into public domain, which would afford the creator of the work enough time to capitalize on their creation before having to continue working on something new. Over the past century or so, what we’ve seen is a curious sabotaging of that premise in that copyright has continuously been redefined and extended well past anything meaningful for society as a whole.
This, in turn, has created what should have been a copyright scenario whereby the situation falls heavily in favor of creators and not on the side of society. What has actually transpired is that society eventually begins to ignore copyright restrictions en-mass because they realize that what is being presented as original works are actually just a re-hashing of old materials cleverly disguised with new packaging.
But this post isn’t necessarily about copyright per se’ but more about the overall effects of societal change at an accelerating pace, as well as some other correlations. I’d like to first point to an excellent book by Dr. Raymond Kurzweil entitled The Age of Spiritual Machines whereby I’ll leave the choice up to you via the embedded link as to how you wish to get your hands on a copy. The prior sentence is actually quite compelling to this discussion because, as you will notice, I didn’t just link to Amazon.com or Audible, but instead a Google search whereby a plethora of options are available. Of course, some of those options available aren’t so legal but the real question is whether or not those options are actually ethical in the grand scheme of things. More importantly, however, is that it is a clear indication of what I am talking about in this post which I will term “Intellectual Critical Mass”: The point whereby the culmination of recorded history and achievement reaches a circumstance whereby it becomes a point of diminishing returns to create something wholly new or authentic.
Originally published in 1999, The Age of Spiritual Machines was out of print for quite some time and unavailable for purchase. This led to an interesting situation whereby the question had to be asked
What legal means of obtaining this information are there?
For the longest time, the answer was incredibly limited or nonexistent in context, so the alternative of simply “stealing” this book was widespread in lieu of being able to legally purchase it. As for myself, I own a hardcover version of the book purchased in 1999, and later on when I wanted an audiobook version I found there was little options available as it was out of print.
In my mind, an audiobook version is a transformative version of a product I already purchased the right to access, and so I simply downloaded an audiobook version via bittorrent at the time, and while I was at it, I grabbed a PDF version. This seems dubious at best in legality, but let me ask you a really important question; If media companies are treating their works as indefinite rentals, then at what point are you actually entitled to own a copy of what you purchase, and better yet, at what point should you simply be entitled to access the transformative versions thereafter? Wouldn’t you think that copyright in a digital age would cover access to transformative variations for those who have legally purchased access to a particular work? I mean, why not? If creators of media are telling you that you are essentially renting this stuff into perpetuity, then they should be conceding that you also should have access to all media forms of that work as long as you are “renting” it. But clearly it doesn’t work that way, now does it?
This goes back to the music/movie industry where just by changing the format of the media they are entitled to force you into repurchasing things you’ve already bought time and again. Think back to vinyl records (albums) then the onset of cassette tapes, then compact discs, and later digital music files in every conceivable “format” for encoding with or without ridiculous DRM schemes. Chances are, you’ve owned your music on a prior format like a cassette tape (and let’s just ignore 8 Tracks). Then CDs came out and promised higher fidelity (which was ultimately a lie compared to vinyl) and you rushed out and bought the CDs and a new CD player to play them. When the CD player was defacto, your cassette deck began phasing out, so even if you owned all those cassettes, you were hard pressed to listen to them if you didn’t have the hardware to play them back.
Of course, CDs are phasing out (if not entirely now) due to digital music and your iPods. So all the music you’ve bought on CD either get’s ripped to a digital format or you repurchase your music collection yet again. With Apple starting to omit the physical media drive in their laptops, you can see where the trend is going for the industry, in that physical media is going to disappear and be replaced entirely with the digital media paradigm. So all that physical media you have today will once again be obsolete and useless.
I remember when I was younger, I bought a copy of Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon on CD. It was at a retailer (The Wall) who had a lifetime replacement guarantee. If that CD ever broke, scratched or whatever, all I had to do was bring it back and they’d replace it with the exact same CD brand new. Seemed great until The Wall went out of business because of digital MP3s and iPods.
Over the course of a number of years I had actually bought Dark Side of the Moon no less than twelve times, and often in an entirely different format (hard and digital) for what amounted to the exact same music. I think this is part of the problem with the media industry as a whole, in that the only reason they are making so much money to begin with is because they are endlessly reselling their back catalogs into near perpetuity across many different formats, and when they think they aren’t making enough money, they just invent a new format altogether and try to enact a paradigm shift to make the old format obsolete and force the population into repurchasing what they already bought many times before.
Of course, what is old is actually new again. A lot of the “new” music you buy is actually rehashed from the back catalog blatantly or discreetly, and repackaged for you to buy (yet) again. As if buying the same stuff twelve times and in ten different formats for many different devices wasn’t enough, the supposed new stuff is actually just covers of old music/movies redone and remixed back catalog with a new face on it.
The entirety of media is simply recycled on many levels.
Therein is a profound realization in and of itself, and also where we get a little philosophical about the nature of civilization as a whole. If you think back throughout recorded history, there have been a lot of collapses and “lost” information. Take for instance the common light bulb.
You’d think that Thomas Edison somehow “invented” it but really he just perfected a transformative variation of an existing concept that was (quite possibly) thousands of years old. This is no different than say a hardware change or format change in media. The transformative variation of the light bulb goes back to ancient Egyptian times and the pyramids who likely had light bulbs of their own as well and the batteries to power them.
Of course, you’d probably think – Well, this isn’t really an indication of anything… But then you realize that electrical engineers and scientists thought the same thing when seeing these depictions on the walls of pyramids and decided to test it out. Sure enough, the replica they made worked just fine and would have been possible during the ancient Egyptian times via the Bagdad style batteries.
What this means is that ultimately civilization seems to be repeating itself a lot. The old saying “Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it” holds true, but more interestingly that in the case of recorded history the side effect seems to be that it may be ultimately a good thing that civilization continuously collapses and is rebuilt.
Well, at least in the context of intellectual critical mass. When you begin recording history and the advancements of the planet, over time you begin to notice that we start going creatively bankrupt and repeating ourselves. There are only so many harmonically pleasing combinations we can assert for music, despite ever increasing complexity – and so that severely limits the amount of “new” music we can create as a planet, or more importantly any sort of creative or general advancement. It’s when the entirety of recorded music prior to today becomes spliced together as a new transformative work altogether that you start to see the beginning of the end of our creative stride in history.
Maybe that’s not an entirely accurate assertion. What I really mean to say is that when we reach that point in recorded history we ultimately are faced with a choice that up until recently has always been to collapse society and start again as if none of it existed prior. Whether this is intentional or not is up for debate, because all I can say with certainty is that it’s all been done before. Whether the inevitable collapses have happened because of or as a by-product of this intellectual critical mass should be something to consider as a separate thought experiment.
The crossroads of intellectual critical mass aren’t limited to merely music, but to all creative output on the planet. Scientific discoveries may even be a part of this collective amnesia, as well as any other recorded “creative” output. If we forgot something as important as a battery and light bulb in history, what’s to say that far more advancements in history weren’t lost as well?
We talk about the myth of Atlantis, and all the supposed high technology and advancement they had in the ancient world. Some say they had autonomous robots and a high-tech method of power generation through crystals or something. We laugh it off today and say those stories are absurd, and how convenient that the city of Atlantis sunk into the sea without a trace.
But let’s think about that from the intellectual critical mass standpoint.
For a moment, let’s transpose the circumstances of Atlantis onto the modern world and ask if it would be possible to recreate the myth in relation to our own future society.
Right now a vast majority of the human achievement and recorded history is in digital form, with no end in sight for “digitizing” it all. Clearly the Internet and whatever comes after this technological construct is one of the greatest achievements of mankind, becoming the storehouse of the collective of humanity and known knowledge past and present. The Internet, in effect, is the modern version of the Library of Alexandria, except it is far more powerful and all-encompassing.
So what happens when the electricity goes away or society collapses? While it’s all said and good that we have the collective of human intelligence and achievement at our disposal today via computers, all of our society is essentially recorded in machine readable form and not human readable form, as well as is wholly dependent on a specific variation of electrical power.
Should our society suffer some sort of catastrophic event which negates this in some manner, who in the future will believe we existed? We have robotics and worldwide information and video-phones, and things that only fifty years ago seemed like science-fiction. We would, therefore, become the new myth of Atlantis by definition. It’s not like our artifacts today would be understood in a few hundred or thousand years, and to make things worse, our future society would have been reset and re-discovering technology we already had while thinking it is wholly a new discovery and invention. Without the recorded past to explain to our future selves, we would have no indication that we were actually repeating ourselves.
This is that interesting crossroads for intellectual critical mass. We either transcend that situation and move forward to a technological singularity, or we somehow cause a collapse of society (likely through the power struggle and greed) and reset back to about the middle ages possibly, with our current society becoming the new Atlantis myth while our future (less advanced) selves find indications of our advancement over time in left over artifacts.
There are a number of interesting points to be made here, but the most important I can state is that we should at least put to rest the premise that advanced extra-terrestrial life does exist. I’ve thought long and hard about this one for many years and it seems quite absurd to me that an entire planet of otherwise rational beings can cast aside the very likely possibility that there is advanced life outside of this planet, and more so that such extra-terrestrial life has played an important part in our own history of advancement.
When we think about it in any logical manner, it would be downright asinine to state otherwise.
Our history is rife with examples of such extra-terrestrial involvements, right down to blatant pictograms on the walls of pyramids showing UFOs, Tanks, Helicopters and our own modern day astronauts. Greek Mythology seems likely the personification of many extra-terrestrials that came from the “heavens” and either helped or hindered mankind with what appeared to be god-like powers or “magic”. Even when we look at modern day religions, it seems far more likely that such things as “angels” are extra-terrestrials.
So I could be coming across as that guy on the History channel that everyone mocks citing everything in our history as alien influenced, but I say – So what? Why is it so hard to accept this premise as a global society?
The odds are much higher in favor of this than against it, and yet it seems so unlikely that it’s possible. I chalk that reasoning up to the human paradox. We’re on a planet that is essentially equivalent to a grain of sand in the universe, and somehow we as a collective society refuse to take it as read that we’re not alone.
I can’t even begin to explain how fundamentally ignorant that premise is.
Here’s the thing… can anyone actually give a plausible reason why humanity wasn’t fundamentally aided by extra-terrestrials throughout our history? As a matter of course, there is far more evidence to support this premise than what we as a society take as read for religion. At least, in the context of religion being separate from extra-terrestrial intervention. If extra-terrestrials showed up in history, they’d be described exactly like they have been in religious texts we read today.
I get the impression from looking at recorded history that humanity goes through this reset process far more often than we realize. Usually about the moment when we begin to reach this point of technological singularity or advancement, something happens with these extra-terrestrials and humanity gets set back quite a lot – or at least enough to where it will take about a few hundred or thousand years to get back to where we were. Along the way, we only have the long-term records to hint at what we used to have, but any of the short term records which the society would have ultimately relied on are missing. Much in the same manner as our own society relies on the short term digital media in our everyday experience but the long term stuff is all but nonexistent to the future.
The side-line premise here is that I’m writing this in the year 2012, and if we look at stuff like the Mayan Calendar, something is apparently up this year around December 21st. Do I know what that event is? No more than anyone else has a bunch of theories, and heck… a lot of people just say “Nothing will happen.”
Any number of those things could be right, but I’m not psychic.
I have, however, noticed quite a lot of things in my life that seem quite curious leading up to this. I’ve become a firm believer that media itself is a conduit for sociological introduction of technological or paradigm shifts in thinking. We seem to get a lot of media about certain concepts or scenarios in advance of those scenarios actually happening for real, as if it’s a manner to acclimate society to the possibility of such existing as common knowledge.
Quite literally, we may be facing the idea that it really has been done before and that those in some echelon of power are privy to this and are really in charge of reintroducing the rest of us as a society to these things that we’ve lost prior. I’d even go so far to say that (just like the premise of ancient civilizations) extra-terrestrials would be essentially asking to be taken to our leaders because our leaders are in charge of working with that societal change without just dropping it all on us at once.
Of course, we are at a point where the acceleration of advancement is so quick that we as a collective society are able to quickly discern that popular culture predicted many things we now actually have, as if people in our past somehow had some idea what was coming. Your iPad isn’t new if you know those tablets were shown in science fiction like Star Trek. Nor is your cell phone anything to brag about as far as “novel” because it looks like the Star Trek communicator.
Voice recognition and computers? Star Trek. Landing on the Moon? Predated in science fiction.
Even the Internet you’re using right now to read this was interestingly named as if it has a deeper functionality. Originally it was referred to as Intergalactic Network, which actually makes sense in the context of extra-terrestrials. I mean, if extra-terrestrials were sharing information with our society in a top-down method of our governments to the masses, what would be the trade from Earth? Extra-terrestrials would say they want to have access to the sum of human knowledge at any given moment, and during the 40s/50s that would have been awfully hard to accomplish with just the written book.
So we say aliens just help us design a planetary network of digital communication and information storage with the caveat of having their own dedicated access line. Makes sense in that context when you think about why on Earth the Internet would be referred to as Intergalactic Network.
The whole pop-culture indications get interesting though when you fast-forward a bit and ask about things like Stargate SG-1 and movies like Independence Day. Did you ever get the feeling that you’re being prepared for something? We could look at the premise of Stargate and it takes from the idea that ancient Egyptians were ruled by something like the Goa'uld which the Pharaoh of the time where considered “Gods” incarnate. It doesn’t take much to make that logical leap since about 90% of the idea is already there in our real life collective culture. Then there are the Asgard in the Stargate SG-1 universe, which for all intents and purposes are what we consider Greys. What if we look at the Men In Black movies?
I could go in either direction here concerning the significance of all of this… but I’d just like to state that when we look at history, and even recent history and science-fiction, we seem to be uncannily introducing ideals and concepts into the world about twenty or so years in advance via popular culture before such things become reality (or likely just released publicly).
So what is going on in places like Area 51?
We love to talk about the place that doesn’t officially exist, and interestingly enough it is the wisdom of the crowd that has an (on average) 91% accuracy rating, even if the individuals aren’t certain of the answer. There’s an interesting fact for you right there… so if we apply that understanding to society, then there is a 91% accuracy that Area 51 really is a hotbed for extra-terrestrials and technological wonders. Something is definitely up with humanity and this planet…
A look into the Future
In order to really get a grasp on what the future will likely hold for us, we have to first reach out into the fringe of collective culture and look at the bigger picture. This, of course, means that we reach into some fringe aspects of understanding before we can get back to a more balanced center of logical progression. I could go on about extra-terrestrials and ancient civilizations, and while we’re at it, I could let my hair stand on end and look like a total lunatic. Maybe I’m just spouting conspiracy theories?
What I can say about the future is that there is some really interesting, and logical, events which are coming. Assuming that global society doesn’t get reset again under the premise of collapse, (which I really am hopeful about), we can look at this from the point of a singularity aspect.
Again, assuming that we don’t just get a reset, I can make a few predictions about the near and long term future with confidence:
1. Copyright is dead.
2. The Singularity is near.
3. What you know today is just a fraction of what there really is to know.
Let’s explore these three initial points.
Copyright is dead. Right now the premise of copyright already is dead, it just hasn’t gotten the memo. As a society we’re on the verge of creative bankruptcy, at least on the onset. There is still creative exploration and transformative works, but the mainstream application of creative output is slowing down. Scenarios and creative output are reaching that intellectual critical mass, and over the next ten to twenty-five years, and due to accelerating returns, it’ll be all but pointless to try and copyright something going forward.
There is already quite a lot of creative bleed-over from prior works in history, and because we’re accelerating advancement, the shear volume of media and output will overwhelm society. It’ll be unlikely that the future of creative output will be copyrightable, or at the very least it will be unlikely that those official copyrights will be respected in a traditional manner. Already we’re seeing that today with society, despite the backlash from traditional rights holders.
The singularity is near. I really don’t know when it will happen, but there is a good estimate from Dr. Kurzweil. Already we’re primed for that mentality of existence and really don’t realize it yet. You have on-demand access to the sum of human knowledge in an instant, we exist in multiple personas through social media and virtual environments, and within twenty years the lines between reality and synthetic environments will be ultimately blurred becoming it’s own space entirely in an augmented existence. At some point computers will become fast enough to handle human level intelligence, so over all this is not a matter of if but when. Even more interesting is that leading up to it we’re in transition to that way of living, but the ubiquity of it all is so pervasive that the subtlety of that transition is all but unnoticed by the majority.
When you really think about it, we’re being primed to be demi-gods. Obviously this is contingent on the perspective and context, but overall in relation to our past we’re pretty powerful and god-like already. This in and of itself is profound because if in this short amount of time we can accelerate this far in advancement, can you imagine what a few million years ahead would do in relation to us today? If you can imagine that advancement, then you pretty much nailed what the bigger picture for aliens would be in context to us.
What you know today is just a fraction of what there really is to know. This isn’t just a general statement, because obviously the universe has a lot left to find out. What I’m getting at is that the actual knowns today far outnumber what actually is publicly known. It’s not in the best interest of anyone higher up the chain to let the population know much of what they already do, simply on the premise that a majority of the world population are in no way prepared to know it let alone actually comprehend it rationally. It is not implausible to understand that a majority of this planet are kept at a certain level of disclosure while there exists a whole other level of things going on.
Have you ever watched the movie Lord of War? It was based on a true story, and even then gives you just a glimpse of how world governments work on the level of arms dealing. Imagine that level of operation on a large number of dealings. What we know is clearly not how it actually works in the world – in essence we’re living in a perceptual bubble. It’s quite possible that we’re staring at a breakdown of that perceptual bubble going forward. Already we’re surprised at revelations that are brought on by Wikileaks, but we’re surprised only because we think those things are abnormal when really that’s actually business as usual in the real world. No wonder world governments (especially the United states) wants to drag Julian Assange into the deepest, darkest hole they can find and never let him out. Of course, then, Bradley Manning will be prosecuted very harshly for leaking information.
There is a penalty for pulling back that global curtain for the public to see.
However, that being said… I will tell you that there is far more going on in the world than you are likely aware of. Profound is an understatement for what information is being withheld from you. Do I actually know what that information is?
It wouldn’t be hard to really figure it out, though, would it?
Remember, there is wisdom in the crowd. What we know collectively as a planet versus individually would astound you, and give you a much clearer perspective. Whatever the answers are, there is a high probability that they may be found somewhere in the average of the cumulative understanding. It would make sense then, would it not, that the term “social graph” is such a hot topic for companies these days, as well as things like the Google Zeitgeist. Clearly somebody knows something about the world that you do not… or more ironically that you actually do know but don’t know you know.
The future is really interesting… all you need to know going forward is that it’s time to start thinking like a unified planet instead of divided. Once we do, it’ll all become much clearer from there.
Whatever December 2012 has in store, and even if it’s absolutely nothing… I think it’s a good time to really reflect on the future of humanity, and its place in the universe. A time to think about each other as a unified species, and most importantly, to move forward together.
We can do better, together.