I’ve been wanting to read, or at least take a look at George Gilder’s book, Life After Television, for a while now. The reason being its inclusion in ‘E Unibus Pluram,’ DFW’s now infamous essay on television and U.S. fiction. LAT is a strange book, part proclamation on future technologies and part advertisement for Fed-Ex (and part anti-Japan rhetoric, oddly), with lots of pictures of Fed-Ex drivers, amongst other stuff, delivering packages in romanticised locations; my favourite being a shot of a Fed-Ex van crossing a bridge in Bruges at 9:23am, taken with the sort of filter that leaves the picture looking like it’s been steeped in milky coffee to give it a warm glow.
Anyhoo, my comment here comes from Gilder’s assertion on p.31 that [Sic]:
The force of microelectronics will blow apart all the monopolies, hierarchies, pyramids, and power grids of established industrial society. It will undermine all totalitarian regimes. Police states cannot endure under the advance of the computer because it increases the powers of the people far faster than the powers of surveillance. All hierarchies will tend to become “heterarchies” – systems in which each individual rules his own domain. In contrast to a hierarchy ruled from the top, a heterarchy is a society of equals under the law.
To wit, DFW leaves a comment in the margins: “And how will law be enforced, you smug prick?” (that made me giggle a bit).
It does make you wonder if the future democracies that seem to have been promised as a by-product of the advent of technological advancement have floundered somewhat. Do we feel that our powers are greater than that of the surveillance society? Do we see an end to totalitarian regimes? Two recent documentaries speak to these questions, but I’m afraid the answers they provide are not all that optimistic.
The first, The Internet’s Own Boy, tells of Aaron Swartz’s (@aaronsw) story. It is almost too sad a tale to be true, but unfortunately it is true, and a young, gifted individual now lies dead while those people who did little to avoid his death, and did much to accelerate it, go about their lives with hardly a care, it would seem.
The second, Citizen Four (#citizenfour), is almost too dark to be true. Whether what Edward Snowden says about the information he has in his possession is true or not, there is a sense, like the sense you get from watching The Internet’s Own Boy, that the ‘freedom of information’ that the Western world prides itself on is not all that free after all.
And here we have pause to consider DFW’s comment and to think, in light of seemingly endless revelations of wrong-doings by institutions that are meant to represent ‘the people’ (by the people; for the people), just how will the law be enforced as we move further along with technologies that are meant to provide us with unseen levels of personal freedom?