Why Futurists Suck: The Real Promise of the Digital Age

The first time I truly used a networked computer I saw it as the way out. Instead of being enslaved to big corporations—as employees and consumers—we’d be able to work on our own time, create value directly for other networked people, and get out of the obligatory, expansionist race against the debt clock that was destroying our planet.

But once WIRED and the other technology business folks got wind of the coming digital age, they framed it quite differently. No, digital technology wouldn’t liberate us from the values of the Industrial Age; it would amplify them! Instead of letting NASDAQ deflate and die its natural death, we could use the promise of the dotcom era and the “long boom” of infinite expansion to pump some more steroids in there.

To them, the digital age wasn’t something that was here, but something that was coming. Something to prepare for. Something to invest in.

And that’s when I started to hate futurists. Here we were already in possession of the things we needed to break free of the corrupting cycles of corporate culture—and yet we were now supposed to see them as the basis for a whole new stage of venture capitalism. All a company needed to do is hire one of the TED-talk-like digital luminaries to imagine a new scenario through which the same old banks and corporations could keep on growing.

But the promise of a digital age, as I see it, is just the opposite: We can retrieve the values and modalities submerged by the birth of the corporation and central currency. Instead of building our entire economy on debt-based money—money with a ticking clock inside it—we can begin to exchange goods and services with one another in real time.

We can even wake up to the fact that—thanks largely to technology—we already have more than enough stuff to go around. We are destroying houses and burning food to keep the market prices high. Unemployment shouldn’t be seen as a problem but as a goal. Who wants a job, anyway? I just want the stuff.

Sure, I am happy to work, but not simply as an excuse to keep an economic system in place that was much better at growing colonial empires than it is at creating sustainable solutions to problems in the present tense.

Time is not money. It’s the way human beings move through this thing called life. If we can bring ourselves to consider the ways digital technology can make time rather than simply take more of it, we will be in a position to live for a better today, right now.


From Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (Penguin/Current)

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