Sunday, February 17, 2013

Paving Cultural Paths: Introducing Techno-Future Narratives & Future Shock

In a recent post on IEET, The Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Adam Ford, discussed some of the nuances of writing for, and presenting to, audiences who have no previous experiences with future narratives

Ford wrote about the concept of future shock, when audiences respond to techno-future narratives with a range of intense negative responses often punctuated by denial or condemnation. 

(Video:George Dvorksy - Covering the Future Beat: Managing Futureshock when Writing for a Mass Audience)

Future shock (like a techno-information-narrative overload) often hits the uninitiated at the very core of their self-concepts. I see this in students when I lecture on techno-human narratives. A captive audience, for many students those lectures are a trip into the fantastic and inconceivable; a few are excited, a few more are flabbergasted, even more are confused (I hope not due to my skills as an orator!). The narratives are so foreign, as if dropped-off from another planet, to be rendered in CGI-3D in a movie yet to be made in future-time by the all-powerful Walt-Lucas-Disney-Arts superbrain. 

Incidentally, the concept of future shock was explored in a novel of the same name written by the futurist Alvin Toffler in 1970. Toffler defined the term "future shock" as a certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies who experience "too much change in too short a period of time". Curtis Mayfield recorded a song called "Future Shock" on the album "Back to the World" that would be covered in 1983 by Herbie Hancock as the title track for Future Shock

Ford wrote, “Ultimately, the goal for writers covering the future beat should not be persuasion, but rather the matter-of-fact dissemination of all relevant information, accompanied by supplementary analysis and interpretation from the experts.” 

Yes, information and facts are critical, as are folks who have honed critical techno-cultural competencies (read more here) to help engage and encourage social discourse. Certainly though, the techno-future narrative is a global discussion and one that will intimately affect communities in the developing world.

One of the most effective channels to explore transhumanist narratives, the Singularity, and emerging techno-human interfaces is through education. And at public institutions at that. The students at public universities (mainly poor, working class, and middle class, minority students) often represent a diverse cross-section of life, people whose lives will be affected directly as technology integrates deeper into the social and bio-ecological human experience. The continued integration of the organic with the mechanic will have significant impacts on poor and working class peoples, most visibly in economics, employment, environment, and health outcomes.

To be sure, there will be a dizzying array of DIY cyborg modification by persons in impoverished communities, especially in the developing world.

People need work. People need to eat. People are creative.

Reverse engineering discarded robots, fixing them up as DIY techno-exoskeletons in order to work alongside robots in agriculture or mining (incidentally, will robots develop labor unions?). Local craftsmen switching from traditional labor toward techno-DIY repair shops to service the transformed local economies. Local artists might integrate techno-human-robotic narratives into art, music, and story.

Expressions of the Singularity, cyborgification, and artificial intelligence will be explosively evidenced in developing world communities.

In reference to the creation and proliferation of techno-futurists narratives, Ford wrote, “The aim is to encourage refined communication about the future in creative ways, and thereby promote serious attention to the opportunities and risks we are facing.”

One effective strategy is to employ humor when discussing techno-future narratives. Not so ironically, using humor humanizes the strangeness of techno-human narratives. In my lectures, I encourage students to laugh when thinking about what might seem absurd outcomes or possibilities: net result – poking fun at the intensity of techno-narrative allows audiences a bit of distance…distance enough to weigh their values, beliefs, and identities in light of this new hilarious, but highly plausible and though-provoking, idea: We are always changing.


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