The future is Now – or just a hop, swipe and a quark in front of the moment we’re in – apparently – and every leap forwards we experience just another masterful identification of yet another inflection in technology – another opportunity or possibility seized by one silicon valley giant or another (and at which they ferociously throw themselves like a clown-masked bank robber sprawled across the bonnet of Frank Cannon’s Mark IV Continental, money spilling from his pockets like confetti, killer app strapped to his oversized gloved hand, joker grimace mouth frothing with messianic fervour).
And as each Now is seized, another rush of them pop up in its wake. Not one. Many. Nows are like May Flies, their single short life, their moment in the sun though brief and bright, is followed by not one but many more, their job of expanding their universe efficiently and economically done. And like May Flies, those Nows and the wave of possibility and opportunity that accompany them are coming thicker and faster than ever as technology and the Moore’s Law slingshot applies.
But there’s the question (if you can be arsed to ask it).
These Nows, and the infinite relentless possibility that comes with them are coming thicker and faster BUT are they rushing towards us, and if so what’s pushing them? Or are we rushing towards them – and if so, what’s propelling us?
Are we in a delicious Pull relationship with that point somewhere between the far side of the Now and the leading edge of tomorrow? Is the mesmeric possibility and galloping expectation of ‘what might be’ seducing us to rush at ever greater speeds into that space, self-propelling ourselves on the accelerating nature of tech capability?
Or are we being pushed? – bullied and bumped by the expanding exploding mosh of what has momentarily just been…by history, its knee relentlessly in the small of our back: its open palms flat battering against our shoulder blades – oooffff – sharp shoves with vertebrae clicks as the metronome of our progress?
And if it is the latter, when did quaint, doleful, dusty history get so pushy?
Though providing a huge potential for sounding a little like David St Hubbins from Spinal Tap (how could we forget his musings on Infinity – “if the universe is indeed infinite, then how – what does that mean? How far is all the way, and then if it stops, what’s stopping it, and what’s behind what’s stopping it? So, what’s the end, you know, is my question to you.”), the question of whether we are being pushed towards the future (and if so by what) or whether the future is rushing towards us is a rather fun thing to ponder,
My interest lies in the two camps that seem to vie for attention in this Tappist space. On the one hand the Historians have always felt very strongly that the answer to every human question yet to be asked has already been answered somewhere in history so they would say that history reaches forward into the Now and the Near Future continuously, shaping, poking, and priming them as it goes, and, ultimately isn’t everything rather circular anyway in our Goes Around Comes Around world?
And on the other, the futurists have a tendency to simply view history as the collective debris strewn behind our relentless pursuit of that great big beautiful rush of ‘Now’s – the past simply the rusting wreck of all that furious Doing and Being – the landfill of quadrillions of previous ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’s – and a fistful of ‘maybe’s’ – now old; spent; finished; past; dead.
It would be fair to say that in our tech-fuelled accelerating world one might be forgiven for believing that the Futurists are ahead
Bar the odd Simon Schama moment and the old farts watching Time Team re runs – and a small deep fetish for period dramas – it’s all i Robot, Future Shock, cyborg, Artificial Intelligence, the upcoming sensory smack addiction of VR, multiple Wireds by Will i am, and the ‘prism-meets-kaleidoscope-meets-mirage’ of social network identity.
But for my tuppence worth, I believe we are not being drawn towards the relentlessly multiplying possibilities of an accelerating life powered by accelerating tech.
We are being pushed towards them.
Life is not accelerating – history is. It is also expanding and deepening as it does so. Technology is not accelerating future opportunity; it is amplifying, multiplying expanding and accelerating the Past at an exponential rate, which in turn pushes the future. (I can hear the sound of a split hair readying itself for further splicing!)
The Past is throwing more and more data, options choices, threads and wormholes over our shoulder into the path ahead.
The old, odd, sloth-like and highly personal model of living history – a straggly tendril poking us along our merry way, or popping up for some reason every now and then – has transformed into a high, broad and deep wave of such staggering proportion that the sheer critical mass of it relentlessly rising up behind us presses us forward at ever greater speeds.
History has stopped being the inert supplicant to the edgy today and ever more glamorous tomorrow. History is no longer dusting off books and only getting noticed when the 120 pound muscled-up Now feels like kicking sand in its face.
History is now the big kid on the block. History has changed its diet. History is bulking up, doing free weights, and running faster and further than ever before. History’s arms are more ripped and wider than ever. History’s shoulders have expanded, laying on more muscle and width. History has binned the old singular enormo-head of massed experience, chronology and intelligence and now rears up like a hydra, multiple heads sparking, spitting and snapping in every direction at once.
History is so NOW. Alive. Vibrant. Ripped. (Ooohhh.)
And this History is no meathead. This History has taken up Humanities. Broadening its mind at the speed of light fibre. This history ‘listens’. And it learns.
The old, mean, sharp dry propagandas of the old History – mean, brittle, myopic, self interested, closed, elitist – have been supplanted with a broad minded, expansive all seeing History, fired by myriad reference points and concurrent history threads on any given subject – all of which can be viewed ‘in flow’, hyper linked to each other in a cats cradle of information, opinion, feeling, insight, record, and data. History is not only alive. Its groovy: switched on. Tuned in.
For example, lets take an era of historic record – The Cold War. In our new hyper connected world, at the touch of a screen I can explore the Cold War not only from the vantage point of general historic record; the standard expository account as set out in a geo political or military text book but also through ‘pulling up’ what’s out there (About 65, 100,000 results in 0,62 seconds according to GOOGLE) delivering everything from random Wikis to blogs to current affairs programmes and texts from the time, government papers subsequently released by interested 3rd parties (web platforms & activists): treatise on How and why – profiles on whom – the JFK lens? – the Khruschev lens? – the Castro Lens? – suddenly Ive got Marilyn Monroe conspiracy films with my Bay Of Pigs and a recipe for Cuban Rum Bean Stew in front of me. There are personal biographical and autobiographical accounts of living memory (both politicians militarists, civic officers and everyday people) to swim in.
I can have a shufti at the confrontation through the 1st and 3rd person filmic, musical and artistic reminiscences of people who ‘lived it’. I can virtually experience Cold War happenings, using Google Street View to walk the streets and dark corners of the Eastern Block to bring a narrative reminiscence to life. I can listen to recordings, interviews; watch reams of old newsreel. I can even consider it through the lens of how the art direction of movies focused on the period have inspired new wave designers in a kind of New Wave Cold War Hot Looks Chic – with a range of soft furnishings furniture and wall papers that celebrate concrete block builds papered with the rural mirage of big florals rendered in a palette that cold best be described as ‘Bowie Low’ Orange
This sea of multi dimensional multi perspective references is universal.
Technology allows me to drown myself in my own historic tsunami on any given subject.
Now this new, expanding, deepening, towering hydra tsunami of history can be broadly separated into two forms.
Near History & Far History
Far History has nothing to do with timelines or chronology – Far History is the kind of history which is only occasionally drawn into our everyday consciousness – the type of history that is farthest away from our Now.
Far History is only drawn up for or by a particular reason. For example, I watch the film Book Of Life with my children; they ask me about The Day Of The Dead. I follow up with a little light research on Dia De Los Muertos and suddenly I can drown myself in an avalanche of semiotic, cultural, religious, geographic, artistic, musical rendition and reminiscence. And the odd street food recipe.
To put it another way, Far History is everything beyond the peripheral vision of a facebook timeline and a linked-in profile update.
Near History is the one to watch. Near History is the pushy one here. Near History is the type of history that is expanding to the greatest degree. Near History is the staggering funnel of information, data, reference, touch point, perspective that rushes outwards across multiple channels and platforms from any one moment, action, experience or occurrence to deliver social, cultural, economic and environmental context of staggering breadth, impact and effect.
Think of it in personal terms for a moment. Your ‘history’ was once something gentler, broadly of two parts – the highly personal – ‘Close to you’ version. Spoken memories. Photo albums. Diaries. Familial reminiscence. Shared experiences between neighbour and local. With a nice and highly engineered ‘Part Of This’ national identity draped over the top for when bigger stuff came along – football, war, European Union, holidays, collective cultural rituals (Guy Fawkes Day).
But it was slow, intertwined, indistinct. Ambling.
Now every moment explodes with Near History – the old personal intimate ‘close to me ‘ stuff amplified to staggering proportion by the connections pictures films shares links likes revelations news sources contextual materials.
Near History doesn’t pop up eventually, a little way down the track. It goes off like a grenade – rising up and billowing around us so quickly that we are living in it – the Near History is now a part of the Now.
It is this expansive explosive Near History rising up behind every moment we live that is pushing us forwards.
Near History is not in service to Moore’s Law. It is what fuels Moore’s Law. The exponential multiplication of capability, capacity and functionality is forced forwards by the Near History of every innovating, applicable and expanding moment in technology that has just been in service to every expanding moment we’ve just lived and the legions of multiplying Nows lining up just in front of it.
Anyway, if you’re facing the future, throw away the rear view mirror, strap yourself in, pop on some flash goggles and turn that Kevlar round to face the back. And let History, especially the Near kind fire you forwards.