What sort of future do the futurists see for us? Despite the sugar-coated promises of wealth and power being held out to those who make the cut and get inducted into the supreme religious cult which gets to play imperial Wizard of Oz, the reality of a Wells/Wired future won't be nearly so cinematic for most earthlings. As every honest futurist has admitted, the future will be painful and pointless for most who survive. The Information Age will be a Dark Age. It will bring pre-mature death to half or more of the earth's population and it will represent the deliberate scrapping and then forgetting of humanity's greatest achievements.
Perhaps, the harsh truth of the Information Age was best described in Michael Vlahos' January 1995 speech, "ByteCity -or- Life After the Big Change." Vlahos is a Senior Fellow at Newt Gingrich's thinktank, the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF), and a past geo-political analyst who has led PFF's exploration of implementing the Toffler/Wells plans. Vlahos presents a terrifying future scenario roughly 20 years in the future in which society has stratified into elites and gangs. In fact, life is so threatening in ByteCity that we spent most of our time in our rooms staring at wall sized vidscreens -- if we're lucky enough to have a room, that is.
Vlahos' world is run by stateless modern robber-barons, which he terms the "Brain Lords" and which he characterizes as "rampaging not through the landscape but making billions in the ether." These new aristocrats will come from the merger of telecommunications and entertainment multinational giants and much like in Wells' formulation, the "Brain Lords" do not inherit their class status and they will burn out from looting at an early age. After 40 they will retire to run the world. They will comprise 5% of the population, he says. They are Wells' "New Samurai."
Below them he stratifies in the "Upper Servers" and the "Agents" who comprise another 20% who will spend their lives destroying the value of professional education and association in a vicious "information" driven chase for individual recognition. Below that, roughly 50% of the population lives as service workers slaving 12-15 hours a day in front their living-room vidscreens "servicing" their global clients in a world that respects no time zones.
And the bottom 25%, who, if they are not pacified will provide ample motivation for people to stay indoors to avoid being attacked by roving gangs, are what Vlahos calls "The Lost." Roughly twice as large a population share as those who were discarded by the Industrial Revolution in Britain according to Vlahos, "The Lost" are those that will never become a functioning part of "ByteCity." Sustained by modern "Victorians" who know the threat posed by the poor, "The Lost" are merely the most wretched of the wretches. Life all the way up the line from "lost" to "lord" will entail such radical disruption of personal safety and well-being that, in effect, Vlahos has turned dystopian cyberpunk literature into a policy statement. Naturally, expecting to rise to the top, Vlahos appears to feverishly await the "Big Change."
No less chilling is the scenarios planning exercise that Wired's wizards-behind-the-curtain perform on their multi-national clients. From General Motors to AT&T, the Global Business Network (GBN) charges hefty sums to show the yellow-brick-road towards "ByteCity" to strategic planners and top corporate brass. In one recent and rare public discussion of the results, GM's top planning team defined the three "alternative futures" which emerged after years of GBN counciling. The first is just like our world and, so by definition, is not very interesting. The second is an eco-fascist regime in which car designs are completely "Green" and the companies can only follow orders. The third is the fun one, however. This is the world in which armed gangs roam the streets and surface travel is a series of car chases. This scenario has already been anticipated with a Cadillac that includes armored protection and a "panic" button installed in the middle of the dashboard. The car has a satellite tracking system built in and it can call the local authorities (presumably your multi-national's private swat-team) and get help when you get trapped by the natives.
Vlahos/PFF/Gingrich and Wired/GBN/Brand and Wells/Toffler/"Open Conspiracy". What ideology is being expressed by all these 20th century New Dark Age "revolutionaries"? Is this ideology "Californian"? Or, does it have another historical context and another tribal association? I merely suggest that accuracy, intellectual faithfulness and international solidarity require us to pin the tail on the real (Benthamite) donkey. This is the English ideology and, as usual, it's hell-bent on ruling the world -- over our dead bodies.
[Copyright New Media Associates, 1996]