Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Future We Got

People like to complain about the future we got, the 21st century we all ended up living in. "Where's my flying car," they ask, "my jetpack, my Martian vacation?" I admit, I've done it too. The 21st century can just seem so... mundane.

But, then again... maybe it ain't...

A doctor providing access to late-term abortions was murdered in Wichita today.

This, sadly, is nothing new. This sort of terrorism has been a staple of American politics for decades.

No, what is a sign of the times is the instant coverage the man's death got on Wikipedia, and of course the vandals who quickly descended on the article to crudely mock him.

I should note here, that I want to discuss these acts of vandalism here, not because I support them in any way, but because as a Wikipedia fan and scholar I find them interesting, in the same way a biologist might find the parasites and diseases that flourish in the natural environment interesting.

I should also note that only someone closely watching the page, as I was, either because they were curious about the editing proceedure, or actively assisting in editing, would ever notice that any of this vandalism ever took place. At most, the vandal's messages persisted on the page for a minute or two. I would estimate that most of the time the vandalism was erased in less than 30 seconds.

Some of the acts of vandalism were quite normal, boring really. One called him a "baby killer," another changed his occupation to "executioner."

Others were stranger.

One flippantly joked about the Doctor's murder using references from pop culture, writing that he had "gone to the Land of the Lost" and replacing the text of one section of the page with "Slestak him."

Another expressed his enthusiasm for murder in the patois of internet message boards and chatrooms, calling the killing an "Epic Win."

I must admit, both these cases caused me a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, though I should have known better. We do not think of the sort of person who laughs at the killing of doctors who provide access to abortion as being the same the sort of person who talks about Sleestaks in the voice of an LOLcat. Yet here these two activities were overlapping.

I couldn't help but wonder, were these young, hip conservative hard-liners, teens or twenty somethings with a taste for kitchy pop and internet memes and a fanatical devotion to a vision of Christianity so warped it celebrated the murder of supposed enemies? Or were they 4chan style provocateurs, in no way committed to any political cause, simply on the nigh-on sociopathic pursuit of "lulz," disturbing others just for the sake of showing they could do it, and laughing at their discomfort.

I suspect the latter is at least part of what is going on here, but I cannot rule out the former, and I admit I find the former more interesting, and troublesome. If there are christian hard-liners among the net-meme crowd, it suggests the fanatical right will be with us for a long time, and will not succumb to generational change, either human or technological.

So this is the future we got - IP identified griefers making fun of a dead man on the 8th most visted website in the world using the language of a net-based subculture, either for the cause of reactionary politics, or of simple sociopathic glee. It isn't the best future, but you gotta give it this, it ain't a boring one.

Here's a happier note about our Century 21. I've been reading an Asimov novel, Nemesis set in the 23 century. In it, the protagonists build a faster than light starship, and head out for the stars. Pretty cool and futuristic, right? Here's the thing, they don't know where to go, because in the 23 century of the novel, no one has discovered any planets circling around stars other than the Sun yet.

Here is wikipedia's list of extrasolar planets , those are all the planets we have already discovered around other stars.

Oh yeah, Asimov wrote Nemesis in 1989.

We've come a long way into the future, baby.

And the future maybe sorta weird and scary... but it is also pretty cool.

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