Two weeks ago I wrote about the difficulty of predicting the future. But since I’m a science fiction writer who is friends with other science fiction writers it seems inevitable that the post would result in a series of blog posts trying to predict the future. Enter the Jetpack blogtrain starting with this post! Various and sundry topics coming from various brilliant people.
The thing that tends to interest me the most about the future is the way that societies develop. After the recent elections in Finland ended up with three highly conservative parties (well, for Finland at least) at the helm of the country, the talk in certain circles turned to slogans like “not my Finland”. People in the large cities, especially here in Helsinki, couldn’t find their own values in the party lines of the new parties in power. In a world that is constantly becoming more and more globalized, people in large cities are starting to feel more kinship with people in other big cities than they do with the people in other parts of their own countries. More and more of our lives are being led online where we form informal societies with other like minded people around hobbies, obsessions and political ideologies. It seems, then, that as mere geography becomes more and more irrelevant to our lives, that governments will change shapes as well.
The news, uncensored
There was a time when everyone gathered in front of the television to watch the nightly news to find out what was happening in the world. These days, however, most of us here in the 1st world get most of our news through social media whether in the form of blogs or linked content. Increasingly it is becoming clear that instead of just reporting the news, most news media corporations are making sweeping value judgements on what and how they want to report.
This has of course been always true but before the internet there were very little options. If you didn’t personally know someone who had attended the Stonewall riots for example, it was unlikely that you got the full story behind the situation until years after the fact, if ever. The same is going on with the demonstrations all over the US today, protesting the deaths of black men at the hands of the police. In Baltimore, for example, there were drunken white people attacking the peaceful protesters. What the mainstream media reported, however was that people of color rioted. They did not report the police officers who joined the looting.
This is not to say that blogs and bloggers don’t have a point of view or an agenda. Just that said agenda is much easier to detect when there are multiple points of view to be found. In the world of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, this is exactly what happened when the zombies rose. Official news media either couldn’t or wouldn’t report the news that saved lives while the bloggers did. This led to a rather sharp drop in credibility for the old world media and in the new society that rose from the ashes of the old one, bloggers are the primary source of news for the majority of people.
Personally I don’t see this development needing such a dramatic source as zombies. As the portion of the population that grew up with Ted Koppel, or Arvi Lind here in Finland, ages out, it seems less and less likely that the younger generations will continue to turn to The Times or CNN for the information on what’s happening in the world. Not unless they can find some way to re-establish their legitimacy.
Let there be justice?
One of the primary reasons to have a government to begin with is to have a justice system that isn’t reliant on “an eye for an eye” -mentality and is more geared toward having all the members of the society be fully functional and productive members of said society while still maintaining an order of law for the people who just want to burn the world. This is already becoming a problem for governments as it’s becoming possible to commit a crime in another country never leaving your home. Jurisdictions and international agreements will become even more blurred as governments scramble to catch up to the reality of our global situation. What do you do with someone who just works to burn the world in a country that he doesn’t live in? What if what he does is a crime in the country where the effects are felt but not in the country he actually, physically is when he commits the crimes?
The other side of the coin is about crowdfunded justice. In cases where from the outside it looks as if the police is dragging their feet, entities like Anonymous have taken investigations into their own hands. There are segments of the population in probably all countries that have an innate distrust of authorities and especially the police. Those communities often find other ways to police the behavior of at least some of the wrong doers. The same development seems to be going on on the internet. In cases where news media has been more concerned with the perpetrators than the victims and the police seem to be dragging their heels, masses of internet dwellers have started compiling, and sometimes publicizing, evidence related to the case at hand. This is not necessarily a good thing, as there’s generally a reason why the process has various checks and balances, no matter how corrupted they’ve gotten over the course of time. In the future I would suspect that the officers inhabiting physical spaces will have more checks put on them such as bodycams. They might also be entirely replaced by some form of AI to prevent racial profiling as well as the tragedies that happen in the hundreds in the US of police officers killing people. On the other hand, I think that policing on the internet will become much more formalized and laws will change to allow for example using a suspect’s social media history as evidence. It’s also likely that negligence laws will start invading behavior on the internet such that for example people sharing photos of someone raping another person will be charged as well as the rapist.
The third side of the coin (what do you mean it’s a weird coin?) is in what happens to those who do commit crimes. Some years ago I read a science fiction short story (unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the story or the author. The subject matter just stuck) that was basically all about a correctional officer at a super maximum security prison. The inmates were all pedophiles, serial rapists, sexual sadists and serial killers. People whose internal psychology is so wonky that no amount of therapy or rehabilitation or a change of circumstance will ever turn them into productive members of society. They were all in their private cells, sure, but they were all also locked up in a virtual reality of their very own as well. They spent more or less an eternity shut away into their own worlds where they could indulge all of their darkest instincts and never hurt another living being. It’s an interesting thought. But if the world is already moving toward a virtual reality – a staple of science fiction stories from Neuromancer to Lock In – then can there be any sort of guarantee that such people wouldn’t manage to get their virtual hands on the feed of the shared virtual reality and from there on the virtual representations of living people? Would the knowledge that they’d been caught and sentenced be enough to diminish their enjoyment of their personal playground and thus lead them to seek for new victims from within the confines of their prison? A Freddie Krueger for the next millenium.
Peace in our time?
There are few things less conducive to ongoing warfare than the light of day. Part of any campaign even these days is the media war trying to convince the world that is watching that you’re fighting for a Just Cause. Even though it sometimes feels like there’s always a war going on somewhere, wars and violence in general has consistently gone down in the past few decades. On the other hand, just as everything else, it’s likely that warfare will move increasingly online. We’re already seeing a primitive version of this in Gamergate, done on a much smaller scale than fully developed virtual warfare would be. The question then becomes, in a virtual war, who do you target? This means that the definition of “enemy” will change. On the other hand, it seems somewhat unlikely that the possibility of utterly decimating someone’s online existence will be satisfying enough for our violent, lizard-brain urges. Then it becomes more a question of rules of engagement. What makes an act of war instead of a violent crime? Does a unified front of people acting toward a common goal against a common enemy constitute an army? What makes a war crime in a virtual world?
Unless we destroy ourselves through environmental meltdown or some other entirely stupid means, governance is going to have to change as we move toward an even more connected world. Whether that happens through a move toward a global government or individual communities whose member’s physical locations don’t matter is still unclear. For the past few decades, the development seems to have been toward a global government through entities like the EU, NATO, OECD, etc. On the other hand, over the past decade or so, online communities of people spread out over the globe have become more relevant to most people’s daily lives.