Increasingly, the question is whether this still exists.
I call the scenario above "The Law of Unintended Consequences." It is
not a predictionI have no crystal ball, alas. But this scenario is a
faithful rendition of what our world could well be like if some of the
engineering currently being funded turns out to work. "Forget fiction,
read the newspaper," notes Bill Joy, the former chief scientist at Sun
Microsystems. Scenario planning is intended to prod people to think more
broadly and view events with a new perspective. How did I arrive at this
scenario? Let me give you some background.
In the late 1990s, when this book started, the rules of cause and effect
seemed to have become unhinged. The problem was that the world was going
through astounding change. First came the Internet, and then the World
Wide Web. Cell phones the size of candy bars, palm computers the size of
a deck of cards, and music players not much bigger than credit cards
proliferated and merged in a primordial evolutionary silicon stew. A
walk through a dark house in the middle of the night became an easy
navigation. All the tiny lights marked the way in festive red or green,
winking and shining from microwaves and clocks and phones and
televisions and music players and video players and fax machines and
laptops and printers and smoke detectors and docking stations and
recharging stations and game players. Each signaled the presence of yet
another microprocessor part of that march in which the average American
inexorably is becoming surrounded by more computers than she has
lightbulbs, as is already the case in as utilitarian a vehicle as a
The raging argument back then was whether this Cambrian explosion of
intelligence marked the biggest thing since the printing press or the
biggest thing since fire. And yet socially, the decade was a snooze. From
my perch as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post, it
seemed like the headlines, such as they were, involved little except
peace, prosperity and Monica.
How could this be? I asked myself. Where is the social impact
of all this change? Where is the Reformation? Who are the new Marxists?
After all, human organization is always influenced by the technology
of the time. "We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape
us," as Churchill put it.
During the Agrarian Age, for example, the family was the fundamental
economic and social unit. Commercial enterprises were basically
family-run, even the big ones in Renaissance Venice. Governments
descended through family in the case of kingdoms. The French army or the
Spanish navy was quite literally a band of blood brothers. Nations were
defined by people of genetic kinship.
All this changed, however, with the rise of the telegraph and the
railroad in the mid-1800s. Suddenly vast swaths of time and distance had
to be managed. Entire continents and oceans had to be spanned. To handle
the challenge, new kinds of organizations were forced to emerge. The
Ford Motor Company, for example, ripped the planet's very dirt for its
iron ore at one end of its operations. At the other end it sold finished
Model T's. Such a globally complex enterprise was impossible to run as a
mere family enterprise. How could you produce enough trusted cousins?
Thus the Industrial Revolution created fertile ground for steeply
hierarchical corporations to blossom. It changed us. By the 1950s an
employee of one of those corporations thought of himself as "The
Organization Man" and "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit"cogs in the
machine. The Industrial Age's contradictions also created a reaction to
itMarxism. Indeed, the entire 20th century can be described as an era
of ideological, economic and military warfare over how to handle the
great social upheavals created by this shift in technology and social
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