Cheering me up

It appears Tom did not intend to cheer me up in the first place. Alas!

It’s just as well. You cannot cheer me up by a vision of the future that is boring. Whatever the future is, it is not boring.

The sort of thing you should say to cheer me up is something like this:

Our capacities are tremendous. Eventually, it is within our technical ability to create factories that clean the air as they work, cars that give off drinkable water, industry that creates parks instead of dumps, or even monitoring systems that allow nature to thrive in our cities, neighborhoods, lawns and homes. An industry that is not just “sustainable,” but enhances the world. The natural world should be better for our efforts and our ingenuity. It’s not too much to ask.

You and I will never live to see a future world with those advanced characteristics. The people who will be living in it will pretty much take it for granted, anyway. But that is a worthy vision for today’s technologists: because that is wise governance for a digitally conquered world. That is is not tyranny. That is legitimacy.

Without vision, the people perish. So we need our shimmering, prizes, goals to motivate ourselves, but the life is never in the prize. The living part, the fun part, is all in the wrangling. Those dark cliffs looming ahead — that is the height of your achievement.

We need to leap into another way of life. The technical impetus is here. We are changing, but to what end? The question we must face is: what do we want? We should want to abandon that which has no future. We should blow right through mere sustainability. We should desire a world of enhancement. That is what should come next. We should want to expand the options of those who will follow us. We don’t need more dead clutter to entomb in landfills. We need more options.

It needs to happen. It must happen. It is going to happen.

Bruce Sterling


  1. The point is not to produce drinking water. The point is that the exhaust should be pure enough H2O as to be drinkable!(The essay is from a few years back. I think this was the "hydrogen car" idea. Alas, it seems not to work very well, mostly, if I recall right, because it would have a tendency to explode in a minor collision.)

  2. Not so sure about that "back from the brink" idea. My preference is for something positive – but my wit fails me at this point.Progress is choosing *another* direction for the future. Pretty wooden and dogoodery and not exactly succinct, but the best I can do just About the cars and drinking water, it's precisely because of it not being the prime purpose that I dislike it. The first image to my mind was those idiotic refrigerators with tv screens and other such irrelevant fripperies. Why not just a better fridge? or car?

  3. It's just that the word progress is one of these loaded words. It implies movement towards a desirable goal, the problem being of course what goal. Usually it is taken to mean more stuff for everyone tommorrow. In other cases it can mean fewer people starving to death or more people surviving from illnes's. It could be argued that sustainability is a kind of progress, since it achieves the goal, or at least moves towards it, of keeping people alive and healthy whilst not destroying the environment. And then once you are sustainable, what do you do?

  4. I don't know Phil. That vision is not a long way from my own. I certainly see that we could have dwellings and transport systems that are mainly self-powered – because we already have materials and technologies that can be used to achieve exactly that. As for cars that supply drinking water – why bother? There are simpler, already available ways to deal with water use and supply.

  5. Sorry… slightly more cheering story: 'Follow a family's effort to reduce their carbon emissions by six tonnes.'Another curious story: 'High-tech road train passes first test… SARTRE estimates that its technology is likely to go into production in a few years time, although it says that public acceptance and legislation for the system may take substantially longer.'I can imagine some people's take on this: also, clearly, an UN communist conspiracy to rob us of our fundamental freedom to control our own steering wheel. That said, I can't say it appeals to me much… Why not just make trains better?

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