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The International Writers Magazine
: 2024 in Hackwriters

Five Years Back - Twenty years forward
Sam North going towards 2024

It’s five years since we began this journey. January begins our sixth year.
When we became a start-up in January 1999 there was the dot.com boom. In our first guise as Bloc we won the Guardian Student Media Award. Two years later we won two awards for best travel writers of the year and nominations for various things since then. Everyone wanted to make a million on the web in '99 and 2000. We resisted. We were pure. We were stupid. We wanted a quiet space for writers, a place where writers could grow and build a portfolio. We didn't get rich, but we are still here.

There were other magazines out there, with major resources behind them Slate comes to mind. Still there, still has readers but at what cost to establish its reputation? Twenty million? A hundred million? Nothing to Bill Gates of course, but they reach out and find the millions they need to satisfy their advertisers and it remains an intellectual beacon out there on the web.

The web was going to be so many futures and for some it has been, but on the way it has also not really destroyed print, the way everyone said it would, or music, or film. Sure everyone has broadband now and can download movies and music and live porn but the web is not the revolution we thought it was. It is an addition to the world of media rather than a replacement for parts of it. It is ubiquitous and has become woven into the fabric of our lives and become, well sort of invisible, accepted, mundane.

What will it be like in five more years? It might not be the web. Phone technology is moving so fast with 3G, the web seems to be migrating to the portable medium, thanks to in part to wi-fi as well. We want information fast, where we want it. Web Cafés are so 1999. Email is everywhere and in your pocket, so are movies and soon, so will your bank, maybe even your job.

I think in 1999 we thought that the web was always going to be on your laptop, but did we really think it was the phone that would take it over? Actually, it’s that old Star Trek thing. ‘Computer: Give me data on the Sirius Nebula.’ A disembodied voice would answer in detail everything you need to know (Saving the all important detail that the planet down there is full of gorgeous women who are in secret carnivorous.)
This is what we want. An all knowing, all talking web, in our pocket or eventually micro embedded like a pretty jewel in our ears. We talk to it, it talks back in a direct link to our central nervous cortex. We want to be the Borg! Only prettier.

Already we walk past people seemingly talking to themselves with microphones hidden under their polo necks. Five years ago my phone was so expensive to use I only texted when I had to and called my partner at night when it was cheaper. Now we text all day, talk five times a day and I guess we all do this. Talk really is cheap.

In a discussion with my students the other day we all pretty much decided that when it comes to cash points, it would be useful to just point our phones at one and cash will come out. (Given an all important password for security.)

Soon, we shall use our phone to buy everything. Newspaper, chocolate, the pint or glass of wine, my dinner, hey, maybe even sex and drugs. Who knows. Everything is becoming a retail experience, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure my students would also like to be able to point it at a printer and it would churn out an essay (for a price) on any topic you tell it as well.

Well, that future might be there, soon. Very soon. The all seeing, all wise Google™ in your ear experience (not the essay bit). Of course predicting the future is difficult. It is just as easy to get it completely wrong. In the same class I was showing Bladerunner. Hard to believe it is more than 20 years old now. Hell it is almost 25 years old. A lot of people say ‘Oh Ridley Scott and Philip K Dick (the original author) were completely wrong. That future is just not going to happen. Perfect robots, an LA where it rains all the time, everyone smoking! Everyone Chinese or Korean, a new West Coast language…'


Rachel
Well, OK the smoking is wrong. I know it is a reference to Film Noir, but my students just think he got that wrong, so everything is wrong. But not so. Ridley Scott created a future where everything looked like Hong Kong. That future is here. From Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco and LA, the ethnicity is changing fast and going Ridley’s way. It may not be raining in LA all the time, but the climate is changing and global warming is altering everything, changing our perceptions of the future. If your dream is a waterfront property, beware, that waterfront might well be one hundred miles inland by 2050. Check out what happened in Cornwall this year when a freak wave snuck in and swamped a small coastal town.

There is no off-world to go to for a better life. But California was the off-world destination for almost two centuries. That was the frontier where dreams could come true. America is still, despite Homeland security a world attraction for those who seek freedom, wealth, a consumer’s happiness. But where is the next frontier? Not Space, that’s for sure, not with fossil fuels and an absence of gravity that sucks the tensile strength from our human bones. Maybe Greenland, as all the ice caps melt.
Is it sci-fi or fact when Arnie, who played a robot, becomes Governor of California and more importantly proves to be pretty good at it. The future will be full of surprises. Expect the unexpected.

In Bladerunner LA has become one vast city, almost one building, the suburbs burning off gas and oil waste, unsafe, wild. Police cars fly. Robots want to live forever. OK. Police cars don’t fly and we are sadly lacking in robots, but gated communities are real and secure apartment buildings are getting higher, larger, more prevalent. Not just in LA, but right across America and Canada. The future is about separating yourself from the poor and poor almost literally means ‘criminal’ in security speak. We are moving towards a defensive society (see Snow Crash or Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.)
(Since I am an academic, I am destined to be in the poor camp and given that pension schemes are collapsing all over – I fully expect that come ten years or so from now the biggest crime waves will be involving the over sixty-five’s group who no longer have pension incomes.) Teen crime is one thing because they are bored, you wait until the majority of the population starts a crimewave. Sawn off zimmer frames anyone?

In fact, I am very, very alone on this, but I believe that property might be a bad investment in the future. There will be so many ‘old’ people having to sell their homes to give them an income or sustain them or pay for hospital care, the property market will implode. It will not matter that everyone needs somewhere to live, there just won’t be enough capital out there to sustain houses at their present value. Yes, only I believe this. I rent. I am screwed if I am wrong. But that’s my call.

I perhaps worry my students when I remind them that they are the future. They look at each other, know how crap some of them are when it comes to doing any work, in particular to a specific deadline and seeing these same people running Gap or your local hospital might just given them pause for thought. But it remains true. Those who I teach now will be running everything twenty ears from now. Imagining the future, just twenty years hence when everything is in a state of flux? Impossible. What kind of political system will it be? Just how much of the world economy will China be running and will they take all the oil? What price oil in 2024? Will we even have jobs in the West? If we don't who will China sell all their stuff to? What price a house, a car? Will we even be allowed to own a car? Will there be peace or war, or continuous war? If we let Iran and North Korea have their atomic toys, how safe will the world be, or will everyone have to own an atomic bomb to keep the world MAD but safe. *Mutually Assured Destruction

In 2024 maybe no one will go to the cinema, it won’t be safe, it won’t be cool. The screens got so big at home…why bother. Who knows. Will we seek every more reality sensation? Or retreat once again into fiction. Is Battle Royale our future. A Japanese film about taking troublesome kids out of school, giving them guns and leaving them to it. The lone survivor wins. And it’s live on TV. Tune in 24 hours. Why do I suspect it is? What kind of world will it be when China decides what we do not America? Are you ready for that?

A great deal of sci-fi deals with a far distant future. That’s the easy stuff. Dealing with just twenty years is tough. If you are five right now. Then being 25 will be utterly different. How do I know? Because the world of a five year old in 1904 was still deeply rooted in the previous century. Everyone still went around in horse and cart, gas lit the streets, mass production had not yet been invented, nor mass destruction, hardly anyone had a car, no one listened to the radio, TV had not been invented, the first cinemas were being built but the screens were silent. The biggest hero was Sherlock Holmes. The first Rolls Royce had just been built. No one had invented antibiotics or aspirin, most people married the girl or boy next door. Everyone knew their place and communism and fascism were still concepts. It was going to be a wonderful century.

Twenty years later, one world war had finished and another one wasn’t far off, there was a boom, but that would become a world slump and meanwhile anyone who was anyone had shot the horse and had a car, people flew, there was radio, cinema, TV was on its way, everything was electric, trains and ships streamlined and girls were faster and almost no one wanted to know the boy or girl next door.

It will the same in 2024. Everything you knew or cared about now will be forgotten. Including me. Including Hackwriters, could be even Bill Gates. Maybe you. Worried? What’s your legacy? What is the modern equivalent of carving your name into a tree? How will you be remembered in 2024?
© Sam North December 2004
editor at hackwriters.com

Sam is the author of Diamonds - The Rush of '72 Lulu Press ISBN 1 4116 -1088-1 - You can buy this book from
Amazon.com in the USA or from Amazon.co.uk
Buying in the UK! Amazon.co uk are offering Diamonds at a special UK price: link here

The 21st Century - This is how it will be?


Some Further Notes About Living and Dying: December 2004
Ways in which we determine our future. Here are three. AIDS,CARS, CIGARETTES
This month, as it happens we had World Aids Day. 38 million are dying of it, some more slowly than others, if they can get the drugs. In Africa it is catastrophe. Political and economic, as skilled people disappear and misguided politicians like President Mbeki dismiss its veracity. It invades every aspect of African economic and spiritual life.
Worldwide 8000 lives are ended everyday. 5 per minute.
Find out more here

Elsewhere AIDS is rife, but we choose to kill ourselves in other ways. For some, in a war for example, there is no choice. For us, living in peace, we have our own pact with destiny. Is it fate or choice?

On UK roads in 2003 - the latest figures (3,508 people died out of 290,607 road accidents) In the China in 2002, there were 250,007 road deaths and this before the car population doubled in 2004. In the USA 17,950 people were killed on the roads in alchohol related incidents in 2002. Some 42,643 thousand died on US roads in 2003 altogether. (source www.driveandstyalive.com)
Worldwide 4.9 million people die annually of smoking related diseases (WHO figures)
In China the figure is rising exponentially. 2000 a day die of smoking related diseases there. (Want to know more?)


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