So I've had this idea for a while now. It's something I came up with back when I was in grade school, that has since seen a resurgence in my day dreamings. A philosophical idea about the importance of everything we're creating as a species during this very exciting time. A theory I have on how the content we're feeding the internet during these first exciting moments of it's inception is going to be of great cultural importance to future generations of our species.
First a little background material to give you an idea of what birthed this hypothesis, and what has brought it to the forefront of my thoughts lately.
When I was young I watched a lot of Nature or Science programs with my Dad. We both have an especially fond appreciation for anything to do with Space, Flying, Human-Machine interface, and technology.
Nova, The Nature Of Things, anything with Carl Sagan or Steven Hawking.
We watched them all! And I was really into this stuff from a VERY young age.
I think I can remember one we watched in school too. In science class with a substitute or something. We watched the "Powers of Ten" video. Everyone was mostly happy to have a movie day and to not have to pay attention. I was sitting up front and center enthralled, and not even blinking! SO into this stuff.
I kept obsessing over how our atomic structure so closely mirrored the universes astronomic structure. (proton Sun, Electron and Neutron planets and moons) This led me to believe that we could be living on the fingernail of another sentient living being, and that a single small decision in his or her universe (clipping fingernails for example) would have extreme ramifications on our own existence. It was somewhere around this time that I began to feel that EVERYTHING I did was important, no matter how seemingly insignificant it seemed to me at the time. I'm talking elementary school here.
I was a deep thinking 10 year old.
One video, which I have not been able to specifically find, but that struck a solid chord with me, was the one about how Man's earliest TV and Radio broadcast signals have traveled so far away from earth. And that, presumably, the right culture, with the correct equipment, could collect and decode these signals, and enjoy this Man Made content.
I was also especially moved by videos that chronicled the journey of the Voyager Probes that were sent out in the 70's. Voyager 1 with it's gold foiled record chock full of greetings and information about the human species and our home in the universe. We, as a species, WANT to connect with other people from another time and place.
Voyager 1 is the most traveled Man made object. It's WAY the fuck out there. But it's hardly even began moving on a cosmic scale. It's just leaving out solar system! The only things we've made that have traveled farther, would be our SIGNALS. Digital, radio, television. All of these signals, some of them traveling outward at the speed of light have been flying away from our planet since the very first radio broadcasts at the turn of the 20th century. So quite literally, the voices of millions of us have been blasted out into space. So much of our culture has been broadcast into space, that the Earth could disappear tomorrow; Huge impact with a meteor destroys the whole planet. There would still be a VERY complete picture of our species out there for other explorers to find! We've left our mark, regardless of our physical presence!
We've also started listening to what's out there. The last 40 years we've been actively pointing our ears outward to hope to hear someone else. An important fact that my hypothesis is dependent on. One that re-enforces Man's desire for connection, and exploration. SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) is a testament to our innate desire to connect with anyone who is outside of our regular space and time. We seek these connections very actively, all the time!
There's not just a technical or scientific side to this as you can already start to see from these ramblings. But also a philosophical one.
Imagine for a moment, that Leonardo Da Vinci were somehow brought back to life. Throw out science and fact and think of this philosophically. Hypothetically Leonardo Da Vinci is brought back to life in Modern times. What would he see?
Lets take ONE of this master works for the sake of this argument; the Mona Lisa. How many times would he be exposed to the image he created. How many mediums has it been reproduced in? How broad is the reach of his work 4 centuries after his death. Give him newspaper, the internet, television, radio. How overwhelming would it be for him?
So there's no WAY he would EVER be able to comprehend the sheer number of times his piece has been re-created. The vast propagation and worship of a single example of his painted work. This is a single act, out of his life's work as a creative person. To him, this particular painting might not have been that big of a deal. Just another gig. Another paid job he had to do in order to survive. He was only a man. Only a painter. How could he possibly ever have known his work would have such cultural significance, across such an immense global population?
The point is, he couldn't. And neither can we. We can not begin to imagine what our world will be like in 400 years. Let alone in another 2000. What kinds of reach will works of the great masters have then?
It is said that one week's worth of the New York Times news paper contains more information that a person living in the 18th century would have ever come across in their entire lifetime.
And how much smaller was the population of the earth then? Or in the 16th century when Leonardo was around!
My point is that there is no WAY that we could POSSIBLY be expected to fathom how important what we create today, will become to someone in many tomorrows.
Imagine. A future where Man (or whatever Man-Nanobot hybrid Borg-like creature we have evolved into in 1000's of years) has left Earth and populated a number of other worlds. Technology has improved and changed our lives in ways we could never imagine today, and inter stellar space travel is common place. People live to be 200 years old regularly, and with technology saving many of us from manual labor, most people will be quite free to follow more intellectual pursuits. Heck, even my own life is much more relaxed and effortless then that of my grandfather. He had to work 10 times as hard, and had a micro-fraction of the comforts and luxuries I have in my life! So increase that again 10 fold. Give people 200 years to develop extremely picky tastes and behavioral patterns, and then stick 500 billion of us out there.
Now think about how obsessed our culture is with history. No I'm not talking about formal history like you learn in school... but CULTURAL history. How many pairs of sneakers do you own that are "Throw backs"? An old design that's been resuscitated and re packaged. How many posters in your College apartment were recreations of Alphonse Mucha paintings? Or Andy Warhol's work? I guarantee the person who created the packaging for Zig Zag cigarette rolling papers could have NEVER imagined his work would be printed at 3 x 4 feet on glossy paper and hung in thousands of college bedrooms across the world. How many of your favorite songs are re-imagined versions of an older piece? Sampling, remixing, covers. We're obsessed with the past! We covet it. We live it. We love it! An appreciation and idolization and emulation of those who came before us, is so ingrained in our culture, that most of us don't even consider ourselves to be historians. It's just so natural for us to surround ourselves with this historic culture, that many of us actually believe we are being innovative! Kids who don't pay attention in history class, are wearing throw back Nike Air Force Ones, an 80's style knees ripped pair of jeans, and faux Ray Ban sun glasses! We LOVE history. We are culturally, and naturally, historians.
So imagine a future where technology allows people to "harvest" old digital and analog signals. Not just a couple weak old radio broadcast... but literally every single byte of information we've sent out, is then meticulously brought back in and cataloged. Imagine a future where there are 500 billion Humans alive across multiple planets and space stations. And somewhere among those humans, are the Digital Archeologists. People who spend their lives, harvesting, chronicling and cataloging ancient signals. To a population of 500 billion, 6 billion people's lives would be EASY to remember in great detail. The numbers reveal the inevitable truth!
So I submit this:
Everything we're doing. All of these Facebook and Twitter accounts. These status updates, these events and wall posts and thoughts and feelings. Make ups, break ups, weddings, child births will all one day, become a part of popular culture. We're broadcasting and archiving it all! All of it will one day become a part of a vast network of SEARCHABLE, LIVEABLE, and coveted, shared experiences! We're lucky to have been here during the birth of the information age. This truly is a glorious time to be alive, and one that I believe will be celebrated as a grand milestone in the history of our species. How many of us keep a blog actively right now? Seems like a HUGE number compared to 10 years ago. But how about compared to 30 years from now? I can't imagine how high the number will be then. So really, there's a relatively SMALL number of us on board here during the first few laps around the Internet race track!
It's all very fresh and new. Which I think will have a lot of appeal to a person living in the future where this kind of connectivity is common place. My 1 year old Nephew talks to me on Skype. Video phone. There's no novelty in video phone for a 1 year old! It's just normal. So the fact that the internet is NOVEL to us, and NEW, peppers our use of it with a culturally significant sense of wonder. A sense of wonder that may not been seen again for a while. Not until the next major Paradigm shift.
Tell someone who's graduating from High School in 1979 that in 2009 every piece of information they ever learned in their entire 12 years as a student, was now indexed and available instantaneously on a TV screen that you touch, that fits in your pocket. Go ahead! Travel back to 1979 and tell them that. Tell them the encyclopedia is useless and that all of that information can be found much quicker on your telephone. They would think you are crazy! That would just be unimaginable! Unfathomable! Impossible!!
I strongly believe our descendants will be able to look back on a snapshot of our entire culture if they choose. Or, they will be able to look at just one of us at a time. Their choice. They will be able to see how we lived. What we ate. Who we loved. Where we went. Everything. We're filling up the catalog and beaming it out into space! I submit to you, that there will be SO MANY of us (human beings) in the future, that each of us who is alive now; every blogger, every Facebook or MySpace user, every bedroom musician or garage band, will, in the future, be mega famous by today's standard's! Enough people will be alive then, that a today sized portion of "fans" will use the recounts of our lives to further their own growth and understanding of themselves on a daily basis.
1979 guy wouldn't believe in the iPhone. Right? The entire world available instantly on a screen that fits in your pocket! Unbelievable right? And that's only 20 years of progression! So I submit that at some point in the future, the "Google" of tomorrow, will be so powerful, that Future PJ will be able to instantly download my entire LIFE into his brain. He will be able to search and find every single piece of digital content I have ever created. Photos (over 1000 of them, of me, TAGGED AND IDENTIFIED ON FACEBOOK AND OTHER WEBSITES ALREADY! Ready to be searched through and recalled for anyone, anytime!)
Future PJ's advanced brain, coupled with the advanced machines he is using to enhance it, will be able to absorb and build on, everything I have every thought, created, attempted, perfected or produced! All in an instant! Not only will he as a single user be able to plug into us that directly and instantly, but he will be able to SHARE this experience with a group of his like minded peers. Entire sub cultures of future Hipsters, will obsess over re-living the lives of us... the information age pioneers!
This is why it's such an exciting time to be alive. We're witnessing the birth of a new paradigm of what a Human Being is.
Take this speech from 2005 about the future of humans. Here we have mathematical predictions of when humans will begin to have micro-scopic robots implanted in us to enhance our physical bodies and push them beyond their bio-logical evolution.
It's not the connection with the machines that will make us stronger as a species. Sure nano-bots can make one person physically stronger. But how these machines will connect us to one another is what will revolutionize us as a species. Across VAST distances we can now connect. We've seen the paradigm shift in our lifetime! The guy who graduated in 1979 could not have imagined the how the internet would transform how we interact with one another, but if he's still alive, it's a part of his every day reality now!
The World of Warcraft (an online game where players assume a fictional fantasy reality and interact with other human controlled avatars) has reached a population of nearly 10 million people! 10 million people living a second life in Cyber-Space in real time!! TODAY!
The internet has bridged the "space" gap. Geo location is becoming irrelevant. You can speak to any person anywhere, anytime, as long as there's a connection. Soon the connection itself will be everywhere. It will all be wireless, and it will be ubiquitous. Our thoughts, emotions, feelings, they're moving towards a kind of disjointed unity where we share what we want, when we want, and with who we want, with a startling amount of minutiae and detail! Soon EVERYTHING will connect to the internet. Some people's watches already do. You can connect to your cable box on your phone and tell it to record a show while your at work. You can tell your fridge to automatically order more milk from the internet grocery store. How about your babies toys, or your keys to your car. If they were connected you could use GPS to find them anywhere anytime! It's coming!
So I can't help but feel that the "Signal harvesting" tools that make my imagined future possible can't be that improbable!
So why make this post?
Well. I personally feel a great relief when I ponder the future in this way. My theory gives me peace. It makes me happy. I like thinking that in the future, someone will know me after my physical body has long passed. That my digital self, is already destined to live eternally. Even in the event of a global catastrophic disaster in which everything is lost, the SIGNALS have already been sent out. The information, will in fact, live forever!
Think of it when you make a cell phone call.
Think of it when you post a photo online.
Think of it when you agree to attend an event on facebook.
Think of it when you change your relationship status.
Think of it when your friends post comments on your new baby pictures.
Think of it when you send a drunken txt message on the weekend.
Think of it when you enter your pin number into an ATM.
Think of it when you use your coded magnetic sensor to enter your secure condo building.
Think of it when you use your GPS on your cellphone to find your friends downtown.
Think of it when you post a photo of your grilled cheese sandwich on Twitter.
Think of it when you tag your friends in photos.
Think of it when you search for something in Google. (google is watching what you search by the way. It also reads your e-mails so it knows what crap to try and sell you.)
Think of it any time you do anything that involves communicating to someone, or something, that requires you to interface with a machine.
Every single time you use these tools to make these connections, you are feeding the machine! By feeding the machine (the internet) your creating a digital artifact of that moment which you have just lived. Your writing history. I... right now... with this one inch thick super computer (which will be obsolete next year), this simple "blogger" account, am writing history. This is forever.
I don't even have to hit "post" for this to become a part of that digital archive! The blogger account (google again) has already "auto saved" this entry! Even if I choose not to share it with all of you now, all of the willing and conscious participants of my thoughts, it's STILL being written to the underlying base code of our culture. It IS history, weather I choose to share it now, or the machines share it later, I've already created the snapshot! These words will live forever! This is that artifact!
I for one do not feel like being a passive participant in this new paradigm. No. I want to aggressively contribute! I want to grab the machine by the horns and point it towards the future that I'm choosing for myself. I'm doing everything I can to teach the machine! And to leave a legacy of artifacts I can be proud of! I post tutorials and tips online on Twitter every day! Every single time I learn something knew in design or videography or audio production, I share it online! I'm sharing it with the knowledge that it will be used by my current peers, AND by an unseen and incomprehensible amount of Future Human Beings!
So far only my peers and contemporaries are choosing to be a participant in my artifacts through their chosen mediums. Your reading this because you want to. [and because your crazy. Who reads all of this stuff? ;^) PJ rants and rants for a long time!]
In the future, participation in us and in one another, may be much more passive. How actively and consciously will my descendants absorb me? Will they study the artifacts I leave behind of their own free will? I'd love to imagine a future wherein they use us as their entertainment. Or they use the data in a classroom setting for social studies. Where it's fun and leisure activity to search the past and re-live it.
But unfortunately, the way the current future is playing out, I feel that it will be a bit less pure then that. We almost always forget that there is still money to be made in the future. That there will be pop up ads. And infomercials. And digital CGi recreations of us all, selling our great great grandchildren crap that they don't need!
Look at JFK appearing in Forest Gump. Or a Digitally re-created AhNold being in the latest installment of the Terminator franchise.
Yes, along with my happy and lofty vision of the future, is the sad realization that it will be a lot cheaper then I dream it to be. That's one thing my Grade 7 science book story on "the world of tomorrow" didn't predict about the future. That it would be so disposable. That there would be so much focus on cheap, quick, easy, and not on quality. That the past could be recycled so many times that it would be cheapened beyond it's original glory.
Would Leonardo be pleased with how his image and legend had grown in the future? Maybe. Or maybe he'd be revolted by how played out the Mona Lisa had become. Maybe small plastic keychains with "Pop Art" versions of his master work would make him wretch in horror!
I'll bet it was an emotional and moving experience for people to view his paintings when they were created. They were the pinnacle of artistic expression. To view the Mona Lisa in the decade after it's creation would have been an emotional and visceral experience! Now, we hardly bat an eye or give it more then a seconds recognition before moving on to the next image.
So in the future, this miracle of "signal harvesting" and "Digital Archeology" will be blazé and common place for most. Re-living an entire summer that your great great great great grandfather spent traveling through Europe will just be something you do while you're bored and waiting for the bus to come. Or for the next shuttle to the moon to arrive. (Fucking moon shuttle, never on time. Bullshit!)
So go forth Web Minions. Post your posts. Meet your friends. Drink your shots, and snap your photos. Keep on creating artifacts with the knowledge that your painting the most vivid and complete picture of a human life that's ever been possible in the history of our species. Never before has it been feasible for such detailed accounts of single lives to be kept. And that one day, all of this information will be cataloged, search-able, contextually organized, and free to be absorbed in ways we can not yet imagine. And that everything you do, no matter how minute and insignificant, may one day have a tremendous impact on the lives of future Men and Women.
That's it! That's my big idea for today. It's the artifact I'm choosing to create in celebration of this moment of my life. A life I am blessed and privileged to be living, and am pleased to be recording and sharing.
If you are living in the future that I speak of, and reading this in retrospect... well... how exciting for you! A thrilling moment of synchronous connectivity between my time and yours! I feel it too. ;^) I hope that somehow the hyper links to the other reference video content I've posted here are still live. If they aren't, tell your service provider that's bullshit, and demand they upgrade your search engine! After all, I am nothing without the shoulders of the greats who have come before me to stand on. Here I use Carl Sagan, Steven Hawking, and a few other great thinkers to boost my own words. It would be a shame if you were to read this without their work as reference. And just so you know, in your present time, as in mine, the artifacts we choose to create will live on. And what a glorious reality it is that we're are in a position of control over these artifacts. The people you worship and revere were just that, people. And they had all of the faults and imperfections of any other human.
The difference between a life celebrated and a life forgotten is ultimately up to those of you who come after me. But I find great solace in the fact that I can actively choose which artifacts I am leaving behind me. Choose your future, as it will some day be history. Do everything you do with intent, and purpose. You never know who might come poking around the great archives to see what kind of person their great great grandfather was. The future of the family tree is going to be a much richer multi-media experience that reaches far beyond a simple list of names printed on paper.
Post with purpose! May your lives and love all be remembered!