The Future Will Not Be Like The Past (1)

“We imagine that energy decline and economic collapse will eradicate all high tech, and reduce the whole planet to a preindustrial lifestyle, because it’s easy to imagine. It’s harder to imagine a collapse that’s unevenly distributed. Historically, economic collapses do not reduce everyone to poverty, but increase the gap between rich and poor. I think the same thing is going to happen with technology: while overall resource consumption decreases, the proportion spent at the leading edge of technology will increase. Less energy will be spent moving physical stuff, and more will be spent moving information.”

“Not only will there be a wider gap between the places with the highest and lowest technology, there will also be a wider gap between the highest and lowest technology used by an average person. Already there are African villagers with cell phones. In 20 years you may be living with a group of friends in an abandoned suburb, burning scrap wood for heat, growing open-source genetically modified sweet potatoes, and selling brain time to the dataswarm to gain credits for surgery to install a neuro-optical interface so you can swap out custom eyeballs.”

Quoted from Ran Prieur’s blog.

Where Are The Adults?

“Science has enjoyed broad public support as a foundation for technology. But as science increasingly tells us what we can’t expect to do in a world of diminished resources and compromised environment—rather than only opening up new possibilities—we’ll see how popular science remains.” Read more: The future needs an attitude adjustment.

The Natural Limits of Science

“I know it’s utter heresy even to hint at this, but I’d like to suggest that science, like logic before it, has gotten pretty close to its natural limits as a method of knowledge. In Darwin’s time, a century and a half ago, it was still possible to make worldshaking scientific discoveries with equipment that would be considered hopelessly inadequate for a middle school classroom nowadays; there was still a lot of low hanging fruit to be picked off the tree of knowledge. At this point, by contrast, the next round of experimental advances in particle physics depends on the Large Hadron Collider, a European project with an estimated total price tag around $5.5 billion. Many other branches of science have reached the point at which very small advances in knowledge are being made with very large investments of money, labor, and computing power. Doubtless there will still be surprises in store, but revolutionary discoveries are very few and far between these days”. A quote from John Michael Greer.

Greens and Numbers

greens and numbers“My feeling is that the green movement has torpedoed itself with numbers. Its single-minded obsession with climate change, and its insistence on seeing this as an engineering challenge which must be overcome with technological solutions guided by the neutral gaze of Science, has forced it into a ghetto from which it may never escape. Most greens in the mainstream now spend their time arguing about whether they prefer windfarms to wave machines or nuclear power to carbon sequestration.”

“They offer up remarkably confident predictions of what will happen if we do or don’t do this or that, all based on mind-numbing numbers cherry-picked from this or that ’study’ as if the world were a giant spreadsheet which only needs to be balanced correctly. What is missing here is stories, and an understanding of the importance of stories in getting to the bottom of what is really going on. Because at root, this whole squabble between worldviews is not about numbers at all – it is about narratives.”

“The fight between the pro-nukers and the anti-nukers, for example, is actually quite archetypal. Though both sides pretend to be informed by ’science’ and ‘facts’ both are actually informed primarily by prejudice. Whether you like nuclear power or not is a reflection of the kind of worldview you have: whether you are a confident embracer of the Western model of progress or whether it frightens or concerns you; whether you trust science or tend not to; whether you are cautious or reckless; whether you are ‘progressive’ or ‘conservative.’ On issues ranging from GM crops to capitalism, these are the underlying stories that actually inform the green debate. That they are then supported by a clutch of cherry-picked facts – easy to come by, after all, in the age of Wikipedia – is a footnote to what’s really going on.”

Read more: The quants and the poets. Illustration.

The Conquering Factory System

“It is necessary explicitly to call attention to my full recognition of the useful part which the essential factories play in supplying us a plenitude of these things at low prices so as to anticipate the charge, certain to be made, that I see no good in any factories at all”

Read more: This Ugly Civilization, Ralph Borsodi (1929). Via Ran Prieur.

Where no one would believe someone could live

Der ingen skulle tru at nokon kunne bu” is a documentary about Jenny Endresen, an American woman who started a new, extremely low-tech life in an inhospitable part of Norway. It’s not my idea of a low-tech life (I would dress differently, for one thing) but there are some interesting things to see and to hear. Voiceover and questions are in Norwegian, but the woman answers in English. Hat tip to Cristiano Sandels Navarro.