Wednesday, January 9, 2013

FUTURE SHOCK: In the year 1972, Orson Welles is freaking the f--- out.


If you have not seen Future Shock, a 1972 documentary based on a hit book about the rapid advance of technology, you must. You owe it to yourself, both to laugh and to kind of worry a little.
Imagine how disconcerting! The movie says, to go the airport and be faced with a gate agent who might be a robot!  This is a world before: the Internet, automated phone menus, and kiosks.
The phone book has to be re-written EVERY DAY, the movie tells us, in a grim sort of way that indicates that this fact alone is some kind of Apocalypse.
Orson Welles, the evil drug manufacturer in The Third Man*, here is our narrator, smoking his cigars and walking us through a litany of the frightening and fast changes wrought by technology. "Future Shock" is a term coined by futurist Alvin Toffler, and it kind of means "too much change too fast," which some would call "the beginning of the Singularity," though I prefer "Wired Koyaanisqatsi."About the phone books?
"Nothing is permanent anymore... The telephone directory is re-written every day in an effort to keep track of the mobile society, pages printed out by the computer, deletions, additions, numbers, the rate of change reflecting the fact that where we live means less and less as we breed a race of nomads... few suspect how massive, widespread and uprooting these migrations are."
About that. Oh, I believe that it's true that the phone books were soon (as in, 40 years later) rendered mostly obsolete, but is it true that the freedom to move around has been-- wait a minute. He didn't even really say what was bad here. Just that it was happening. And that was sort of scary. How scary? Next we interview young people aimlessly going places on buses, and they look blissful, but Welles sounds disturbed, so I guess they are scary.

The world is changing fast, the movie shows us, demonstrating social changes such as communes and gay marriage. Unclear whether that is supposed to be scary.

The movie is really just a panicky litany with the question:
"Is there danger in the path we're taking? What happens to the definition of man? Who is he? What is he?"

Some of the future really is scary, if a little oddball in presentation: "Babytoriums! Genetic superstores of the future!" Which you will shop from using a slide carousel, because of course we can picture genetic manipulation but no one expects the iPad.

Marriage is in trouble, and Future Shock lays this danger at the feet of Rapid Change:
"In our society marriage is ideally based on love... but the likelihood that people will grow and develop at the same rate becomes more and more remote for rapid change places a heavy burden on the fragile thread of love." To illustrate this, we see people bickering more or less the way they probably did before Future Shock and after Facebook, and I'm not sure rapid change is at fault.

"With technological changes, more changes will come!" Orson Welles says, still talking about marriage, I think. Then he goes off on a rant that I took down this way because it was going too fast:

Confused, helpless, unable to cope! Stress!

I was moved by one thought experiment expressed by the movie, about the loss of choice *not* to enhance our lives with technology, which anyone who can't turn off their smartphone could lecture any of us about. I'm one.

It introduces us to the facelift and figures this to be amazing.

It all seems disconnected from the future that arrived and yet not a moment is actually wrong (except some things that have not come to pass, such as altering our skin color for fun, though some of us are orange.)

And then Toffler says this, and he's darn right:
“We can no longer allow technology just to come roaring down at us. We must begin to say “No” to certain kinds of technology and begin to control technological change, because we have now reached the point at which technology is so powerful and so rapid that it may destroy us, unless we control it. But what is the most important is we simply do not accept everything; that we begin to make critical decisions about what kind of world we want and what kind of technology we want.”
The documentary is 43 minutes long and on Youtube-- hit my playlist above to try it.


*No, come on, I know who Orson Welles is.

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