Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Herbert's Future

(Note: Here's a brief exposition of points that I will assuredly touch upon again and again as the blog develops. It concerns the interplay of technology and the future of the West, which I foresee progressing along a decidedly Herbertian trajectory.)

Comment on Belmont Club "Save the Newspapers"

I think the argument that the internet, by virtue of its ability to collate and disseminate content virtually without limit or price-point constraint, will become the new matrix of news-gathering and -sharing in the new world order, is subject to some fatal criticisms, among which are these:

1) There is the argument that newspapers, requiring costly brick-and-morter concomitants like printing presses, paper pulp, and labor and technical staff, are too capital intensive to hold their own against the free-wheeling internet. This argument utterly ignores how capital intensive the internet itself is. All those PCs, monitors, cell phones, data satellites, broadband networks, server banks, programmers, and IT people don’t come cheap. In fact, the internet is a flagrant exigency to a much greater extent than the humble print media were, and as a result of its complexity is subject to greater systemic risk. The vast technological accomplishment stands atop a teetering tower of social, economic, and political stability which is by no means guaranteed.

2) What, then, will become of the internet if its supporting physical infrastructure cannot be maintained? What is the use of a computer without a constant reliable supply of electrical power? Perhaps someday soon, due to the economic downturn and other related problems in the Western world, a growing number of people will decide to ditch their expensive phone/cable/internet packages. They’ll be working harder anyway, trying to salvage a meaningful standard of living, and will have little time for websurfing. Sales of PC hardware and software slump, disincentivising continued investment in the IT sector. Corporations as well as individuals begin to scale down their web presence. Various server banks are taken offline, and link rot becomes a pervasive problem. These factors combine to create an environment of positive feedback which accelerates the abandonment of the net. For many intents and purposes, large sections of what was previously cyberspace becomes a cyber ghost town.

3) Society adjusts to the dwindling supply of internet capacity by demanding subsidization. Basic internet availability begins to be looked upon as a public utility, the usage of which is both obligatory and metered. E-mail, shopping, identification, and registration for government services are the only online tools available to most people, while the wealthy and the government have access to a “higher order internet." This spawns a craft-guild a highly skilled specialists devoted to producing a suite of ever more inventive web-based applications for the well-to-do, while widening the digital and cultural divide.

4) Finally, the majority of people come to regard the internet with the same mixture of disdain and paranoia usually reserved for the East German Secret Police, and it ends up collapsing in the wake of a popular uprising like a virtual Berlin Wall. The entire course of events takes only 30 to 40 years to play out, after which the future becomes very different than what we often imagine it to be like.

It’s not that the print media reestablish themselves; it’s that society begins to focus on the development of those personal, uniquely human talents and attributes that far excede the scope and performance of mere machines. The West flowers with “mentats” and “bene gesserites” who knit the great forces unleashed by modernity into the warp and weft of their own personalities. The future of the West, far from being a Kurzweilian techno-utopia, becomes a Herbertian neo-feudal Holy Roman Empire.

This, at any rate, is my best-guess blueprint for the next half century. I find the broad outlines compellingly likely. Thoughts, anyone?

UPDATE: Let us also remember in this connection that journalism itself, far from being a natural feature of the human race at all times and places, is really a quasi-political activity appropriate only to the world-cities of late-stage civilizations in the Spenglerian framework. (An upcoming post on Oswald Spengler's influence upon my own philosophical outlook is in the works.)

No comments:

Post a Comment