I was wondering about people in the near future …with human knowledge electronically and steadily accumulating, would they, as heirs to the ages, be like well-rounded ancient Greeks appreciating the True and the Good? … I learned the answer when I time-traveled from my native 1980s into a coffee shop, in 2014 A.D.
There I found an October edition of a brainy Wired magazine.
Back home in the ’80’s I was occasionally reading Omni, the mainstream science magazine with the awful science fiction stories, (one per issue) a magazine I judged to have a tone of gleeful snobbishness. Not to my taste. But Wired, from what I can see, has a neutral tone: It’s all about the future being revealed now.
Aimed at computer lovers, the October issue featured an interview with Terry Gilliam. When I left the ’80’s, Gilliam was known to me for his subversive movie Brazil. I see that since then he’s made a terrific movie with Bruce Willis, that young Die Hard hero, and some guy named Brad Pitt, called Twelve Monkeys. I better see it—it sounds way too good for Hollywood. Gilliam, of course, is also known for his splendid work in Monty Python’s Traveling Circus—and in 2014 they are doing a reunion tour. And here’s where Gilliam is unhappy.
It seems the critics who praise Monty Python have no idea of Monty’s roots in, say, Buster Keaton (I’ve enjoyed Buster’s movies) Notes Gilliam, “…It’s like it’s all been forgotten. That’s the part of the modern world that I really despise. There’s no history—everything exists only in nanoseconds.”
Maybe being old gives Gilliam at last permission to openly sound grumpy, but surely his age is not why he is grumpy. Even as a peach fuzzed artist, surely, he was ferreting out classic truths. I would hope every young artist and young computer enthusiast discerns the truth of people using technology, and the how and the why of their using. This awareness would tend to make anyone grumpy.
It sounds like a man named Qohen is disenchanted, the man in a new movie that Gilliam is working on. In the Wired interview, on page 52 Gilliam notes, “Everybody lives for their selfies and their tweets—to actually exist, somebody has to be talking to you or listening to you. Qohen just wants to be disconnected, wants to escape from the world that’s out there, full of people just filling the Internet with pictures of the food they’re eating.”
As I see it, with my sweeping judgment including brainy computer programmers, no one in 2014 tweets about the web, “Hey everybody, I’ve just found a classic oil painting, and an English literature story.” But no doubt they gleefully refer each other to photographs of cats wearing funny hats.
I have learned that in the future, the human song remains the same: Boring. Familiar. No jazz. As computer genius Stevey Yegge could say (I like his essays) ‘Many people don’t want to be “on the upward curve” of personal growth.’ He means they want to be living their lives, if you were to graph their progress, on a flat line… and, while they are at it, flat lining their brains, too.
Eh? Well of course I accept people as they are! Of course I know they are entitled to enjoy flat lining; we can’t all be silicon nerds who read Wired… But then again, nerds ain’t so special to me anymore, not when I’ve seen the consumerist advertising in Wired.
In my day, people would let themselves be suckered into buying a machine where you stand with a vibrating canvas belt around your middle—Vrrrrrrrr—that “caused” you to “lose” weight. In Wired I see an advertisement for an electric band you put around your head: “Give your brain a workout in as little as 3 minutes a day with our guided, no-sweat mental exercise. Your brain fitness journey starts at choosemuse.”
I wonder how many folks in this brave new wired-in world, in October, know that, as I discovered in a rumpled Oprah magazine, March the seventh was a day for “24 hours of tuning in to the world around you” promoted at nationaldayofunplugging.com. I suppose the philosophy behind the day might be phrased as, “However much you plug in, plug less.”
… … So there I was, having time-traveled into a coffee shop. The first thing I noticed was a distinguished lady, her dyed grey hair superbly coiffed, wearing a futuristic mono blue jacked with horizontal tubes or something: maybe it had spacegoose feathers. I was looking at her back, thinking: Maybe here in the future age 80 is the new 60, while some older-than-me ladies have vanity and don’t settle into plain tired hair.
Next I noticed a man with leather jacket that was brown, not black, which matched his British cap that was black, not tweed. Note to self: Classic clothes remain down the decades. He was fiddling, typing, with a little cloth tent thingy, which I realized was a mini word processor. Small! And he slipped something into his inner jacket pocket, a little box faced with wonderful little colored thingys—I liked this future. That is, until I looked at a corner of the ceiling.
Now, I don’t mind seeing a television for watching wrestling hung in a noisy bar, but—in a secluded coffee shop? And why in the name of Huxley would the silly screen keep rapidly changing, as if to imply no one in the future had any attention span? I can see myself giving a lady a seat facing the windows, “so you can see nature” only to have her ask me to switch seats because the stupid screen is too distracting.
So much for the 21st century.
I can, after some sorrow, accept the facts: Human nature will always reflect the lowest common denominator...Yes, and I can still get to know those few whom Confucius would call “true persons,” folks like Terry Gilliam who put some effort into discerning, and living by, classic values.
In a little room in the Vancouver Art Gallery I was privileged to see a half hour movie, Le Jetee, with narration over still black and white frames, a show that inspired 12 Monkeys—wow. Speaking of art, despite the famous cast, I think 12 Monkeys is an art movie, one that readers of sf would like, not a mainstream sci-fi movie.
I trust readers with an attention-span to Web-search on their own. …As for me making links for losers, forget it—I’m too grumpy: to Hades with search engine optimization. (SEO) …