Our Dystopian Now

Most of us often fear what we can’t see, understand or contextualize. The unknown is the biggest devil of them all. Throughout history we have had to contend with this — solar eclipses, epileptic fits and falling asteroids — they all became part of the fictional fear factor, that has plagued humanity. And perhaps that explains why it became fashionable to pontificate about our dystopian future. Rapid and whiplash-inducing changes in technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and bio-engineering have got dystopia on our minds.What is Dystopia really? I looked it up in the dictionary and Wikipedia and according to their definitions, dystopia means “a community or society that is undesirable and/or frightening.” It usually involves (Dystopia – Wikipedia) traits such as dehumanization, totalitarian, environmental disasters and a decline in society. Since dystopia is usually associated with future and artistic works such as science fiction, we view it from the lens of technology and its overarching control over humanity.

However, I often wonder why we don’t think of now as dystopian. We live in a time where we have had destructive hurricanes and wildfires reach our urban borders. Information warfare unleashed by totalitarian regimes is impacting the democratic process. The reality is torn between real and fake.

We live in a now where a YouTube star will show a dead body hanging in the jungle, for a few thousand views to make a few extra dollars. A $1.50 bet between two online strangers leads to a trigger-happy police force to fire at and kill an American citizen. If this isn’t dystopian, then what is?

Science fiction author, William Gibson once said:

Much of the planet’s human population, today, lives in conditions that many inhabitants of North America would regard as dystopian. Quite a few citizens of the United States live under conditions that many people would regard as dystopian. Dystopia is not very evenly distributed.

Why do we worry about artificial intelligence and robots, when in our now, the humans are creating a society that is undesirable and frightening.  Or is it because deep down we know that we will program our animal instincts into machines and software that runs them?

I suspect we are getting exposed to these dystopias more often and it is being brought into our lives every second, and we start to think about future as worse than the present. Think of it as kicking the virtual can.

As we start a new year, perhaps we should take a moment and think about the now.

January 2, 2018, San Francisco

A letter from Om

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