Utopia or Oblivion

January 19th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized

A reader named Chris Hagglund wrote me and had this to say:

Dear Paul:

I was reading your weblog and I found your post from Jan 6 about building a good future for our children. My perspective on the future is from a technology standpoint — basically building the systems that will enable a global democratic society/societies and guaranteeing freedom and opportunities for our children. I know there are a lot of things that need to be done, one of which is to build a ubiquitous free wireless network. I also think that for the sake of our planet we should begin using hydrogen as an energy source sooner rather than later. What do you think about these things? How do you think we can best go about building the utopian future you envision?

Dear Chris,

It’s always nice to hear from people who share my visions and concerns. I believe like Bucky Fuller, that we stand at the precipice of utopia or oblivion, there is no third way. Technologies are becoming so powerful, that we will either destroy ourselves or establish a utopian paradise. Nanotechnology alone will not be able to co-exist with us for long, unless we as a species somehow figures it all out. I’m not sure what it’s going to take to tip the scale towards utopia, except a massive shift in the way people see the world and the choices they make.

Looking at things today, there are at least a few things I hold out promise for and see as necessary to move things in a more positive direction:

1) Open Spectrum – The coming about of a ubiquitous wireless network that is entirely decentralized, ad-hoc, and open. Both you and I already understand why having an unfettered, uncontrollable, open and free network of communication and connection is the surest way to have a free society. No matter how bad it could get otherwise, when people have the ability to communicate, organize and build community without fear, the powers that be loose their power ultimately. They know this, which is why emerging technologies like 802.11 and mesh networks, the politics of spectrum, and other battles to come are so important. Much hangs in the balance. It is my hope that no matter what they do, that these technologies will be so successful and sufficiently disruptive and decentralized that there will be nothing they *can* do. It bears mentioning that ubiquitous computing combined with advance socially enabling software will likely change the balance of power and capital as we know it. See my blog entries on Capital, Power and Ecology and From Global Economy to Global Village for my views on this.

2) Obsolescence of Oil – There is great promise in alternative energy sources. They will continue to get cheaper. As more people invest, the manufacturing costs will continue to go down which in turn encourages more investment. So I not only want us to wean ourselves from oil, I’m hoping it will simply loose out in the marketplace to cheaper alternatives. This will happen eventually as we are closely approaching Hubberts Peak. The shift to a solar-hydrogen economy has the added benefit of encouragaing invesetment in space migration. The politics of oil has been brutal, and unfortunately it looks like its about to get a lot worse. The sad part is that our dependence on oil is going to not only destabilize the world politic its probably going to create a whole new generation of terrorist that will plague us for many years to come. The saddest part of this isn’t so much the terrorism, as it will be societies inappropriate response to it – more oppression, less freedom – basically a society based on tyranny and suspicion rather than openness and trust. This is why its so crucial that we have open communications and the transparency it engenders. And it would help if our foreign policies didn’t sow the seeds of terrorism in the first place!

So the real question is, will the combination of free communications and cheaper alternatives to oil kick in fast enough to turn the tide? I’m not sure, but I remain hopeful.

So in answer to your question, what can we do today? Well, we can each do our part to spread the word about these liberating technologies, and for those of us who have the skill, build and deploy these technologies as fast as possible. I’m not an engineer, so I’m doing my part, in an otherwise insanely busy life, by publishing this blog and getting people excited about the possibilities – that it’s not too late. Since we only have two choices left – utopia or oblivion, lets start building utopia right now.

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