Computer Love: Technophilia in the Real World

Whither the Future?

What implications for the future does our society's growing obsession with machines hold? Will computer literacy become as prevalent as literacy is today? Will electronics become so ubiquitous that our toasters are on the 'net? Will we all become cyborgs, or shed our flesh to become free-flowing electrons floating in a computer network?

Considerations of the future such as these have always presented a problem to humanity, and the problem is exponentially more difficult to predict in our lightspeed Information Age. Science fiction writers can lend some good insights, but they are always problematic because their visions are almost always comments on the present as much as they are realistic visions of the future. Yet people seem to be obsessed with these visions, and other even more sketchy ones. Psychic hotlines are suddenly popping up like flys, each one promising to predict the future that you want to hear. As the milennium approaches tabloids are rolling out copies of Nostradamus, making as much money as possible off the impending doomsday. (Because if there is an apocolyptic God out there, then obviously he thinks in base ten and likes big round numbers.)

Still, despite my cynicism I feel as if I would be selling you short if I didn't present you with my theories on the future, at least to the extent that it will be affected by technophilia. I'll start off with a non-controversial prediction: Our obsession with computers will continue to grow. Moore's Law will be in full effect over the next few years and user interfaces will continue to become more and more fancy. The digital culture will continue to grow, scampering to upgrade as every new version is released. A new generation growing up digerate will give a fresh market to many new products. Unfortunately, I see nothing to indicate that the speed of the Internet will increase over that same time span, so while the computers themselves will become more and more capable of producing something like the Metaverse or the Matrix, they will remain unfeasable because we will not not be able to deliver enough data fast enough. Eventually, some talented, (or compulsive) programmer will make a breakthrough that will take this all to the next level, but this is probably many years on the horizon.

More controversially, I see large corporations such as AOL and Microsoft spending billions of dollars to make the Web more like television. Their efforts will succeed, and a massive dumbing down of the Internet will ensue. Power users will flee to Internet II in droves; the sheep who remain won't notice the difference. Computer Science will remain a male-dominated field, especially at the highest echelons. Opportunities for women will become more and more limited as the industry uses its power to lock programmers into a testosterone-based vocabulary of domination, competition, and selfishness Foucault would be proud of. On on up note, the rise of the Internet will result in more telecommuters, lowering pollution from automobiles, but unfortunately encouraging an increased sprawl as people flee the population centers. This fleeing, however, will finally allow our urban areas to be rejuvinated, and eventually become not all that different from any other place. Basically, the whole nation will be one gigantic suburb.

All this because of technophilia. Impressive, eh? Our society's technological obsession has and will increase the standard of living, but of course the picture's never all that black and white. Some areas will win, others come out behind. As in life and global warming: it's the extremes that matter rather than the averages. Know of where an area will come out? Mail me.

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