Divrei ben Abuya

In the Babylonian Talmud, Elisha ben Abuya was a great sage who lost his faith in God. So great was he that his and subsequent generations continued learning from him - to the extent that the authors of the Talmud needed to create a story that would serve to legitimise his teachings despite his apostasy. His lesson is a lesson for us all: that great stature is not contingent upon blind faith, nor high learning upon the observation of Torah precepts.

September 18, 2006

The Future Is Not A Place

There's a rather silly misconception that many people hold about the future. They believe that it is a wonderful, magical realm, within which people transport themselves in flying cars and have telephones implanted in their wrists. They foresee the abolition of money, the perfection of the incarceration system, and the glorification of the internet. None of these particular ideas is necessarily silly in and of themselves: what's silly is that people believe them.

The future is not a place to which we are all inexorably heading; it is the result of the decisions that we make in life. There are any number of an infinite range of possibilities that may describe our world several years from now. There may be implanted telephones; the internet may reach the proliferation for which it thrives; money may be abolished in its current form. But none of these things necessarily marks an improvement, and none of them is in any way definate. Equally likely is the prophecy that the internet will become privatised, that greater technologies will introduce more insidious diseases, and that flying cars will be found to be infinitely more lethal than those on the road. Seriously, what do you think happens after a collision fifty metres in the air?

Thousands of years ago, the author of Ecclesiastes wrote that the statement, "Life was better then" is a statement made from ignorance. The author may well have added that so too is the assertion that "Life will be better, when..."
It's up to us to make it so.


At 5:56 PM , Blogger Billie Jean said...

Very true.

In honour of its 50th anniversary, New Scientist has been printing one news article from the past in each issue. It's interesting to read what they were right about and what they were wrong about.

At 9:56 PM , Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

The internet's already privatised, isn't it?

At 11:02 PM , Blogger Simon Holloway said...

Hmm, I don't think so. I'm not particularly technology/business savvy but there is this issue known as "net neutrality"...

As I understand it, the chief difference between the internet and, say, mobile phones lies in the fact that the internet is not owned by anybody. Whenever somebody wants to create something new on the 'net, they go right for it. No need to ask for permission, no need to match up to existing standards, no need to pay large sums of money.

Phones, on the other hand, are owned. Whenever somebody wants to make something new, they need to match up to the standards of the phone companies, receive express permission, pay a certain amount of money, etc. This is a big reason as to why the internet is so varied and so great while mobile phones are so... standard.

In any case, there is a handful of bigwig media types who are petitioning the American goverment for the privatisation of the internet. While it may make them exceptionally wealthy, I cannot conceive of what the advantages may be for the consumer.

At 12:19 AM , Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

2 points. First, this is a semantic confusion; when I said that the internet is privatised I meant that it is entirely in private (ie. not governmental) hands, in the way that the trains in England are privatised, but the NHS not. I see what you're saying though; I didn't know about the petition.

Second, the phone/internet analogy is not very helpful, I think, because the internet is not primarily technology, but data. Data has much more potential for variation than mere technology, which is ultimately functional. I can't imagine how phones could be 'varied' any more than computers are 'varied', ie. not very much. Again, what is varied is the conversations had on the phone, ie. the data; and what is not very varied on the internet is the browser and HTML etc., ie the technology.

At 11:57 AM , Blogger Simon Holloway said...

You make an interesting point concerning the differences between telecommunication technology and the internet, and I regret that my inexperience with this information prevents me from responding adequately. My present opinion, while possibly misguided or naive, is that software for mobile phones (games, for example, as well as WAP) have experienced a staggered growth due to the fact that the networks themselves are owned and operated by private companies. On the internet, such software has proliferated. If I think of the internet services that I love to use so much, they each owe their origins to individuals who simply followed through with a good idea.

And as for my "petitioning" sentiment: my bad; change that to "lobbying".


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