When I was five or six, my parents, who have made a life of rescuing lonesome books from bookstores and giving them good homes, brought home one such foundling for their son, a book about the future, appropriately titled Future Cities: Homes and Living into the 21st Century (World of the Future). Just this past week, their adopted tome proved itself preternaturally accurate. Here’s the story:
You cannot have missed that this week the entire Internet decried, cyber-lobbied, and eventually prevailed in cowing Susan G Komen for the Cure1 for its apparently politically motivated move to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. If you did miss it, no doubt you did so because you were too busy reading about the unprecedented about-face performed by legislators after the Internet decried, cyber-lobbied, and eventually prevailed in cowing Congress into (temporarily, at least) shelving SOPA and its equally evil doppelgänger, PIPA. Two weeks of cyberactivism have brought two remarkable reversals, at least one of which comes from a 535-strong body not exactly acclaimed for its responsiveness to public opinion (ahem, House of Representatives). All of which makes the social media–fueled Arab Spring look like last year’s news (which, of course, it is).
Call it Cyberactivism. Or Internet Lobbying. Or Social Media-fueled Activism. Or, simply, what it is: a tech-enabled mechanism for people to express their opinions and, more importantly, organize. The politician, the public official, the household brand, and — yea verily — anyone whose profile is sufficiently lofty to merit public scrutiny appears now to be confronting the stark reality that this medium has teeth. It’s bidirectional. It is not, with apologies to Mr. Sullivan, a potted plant.
Which brings me back to my late ‘70s foray into the 21st century body politic. Future Cities’ British and unabashedly futurist authors, Kenneth William Gatland and David Jefferis, predicted a wristwatch-like device called a risto (read: iPhone) from which instant, bidirectional communication was possible anywhere, any time. Foreshadowing Job’s iPhone keynote by a mere three decades, risto wearers could “talk to anyone, wherever [they] happened to be.” A risto would “sell for about the same price as a pocket calculator [2-year AT&T contract notwithstanding nor anticipated] and weigh no more than a few grammes.” But here’s the kicker, for which I feel compelled to provide a the actual figure from page 12:
Without thinking so explicitly, for more than 30 years, I’ve waited to see a world in which the public discourse grew to be informed by instant communication and distributed opinion. This January, I believe I’ve caught my first glimpse. Brave New World of instantaneous, unfiltered opinion. Surely, this New World is rife with potential for imprudence: tyranny of the majority, wide-scale misperceptions, fickleness of popularity, madness of crowds. But the world is messy, and always has been.
For the moment, I find myself marveling in the prescience of Mssrs. Gatland and Jefferis. They predicted that a 21st century world would bring with it immediacy (if not transparency) of opinion. Representative Smith and Senator Leahy, beware. Your peril was predicted in 1979.
A note on the research: I was tempted to expand this post to wax rhapsodic about how one can find anything using Google these days, but I didn’t want to dilute the message. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to pass along one other part of the story: Just two hours ago, I got the idea for this post but, as you might imagine, had neither the book from my five-year-old bedroom nor a recollection of either the title or author. But a little Googling for “1970s children books about the future” and then ” \“instant voting\” ” took me to Matt Novak’s awesome Paleofuture blog, a couple of posts about Gatland and Jefferis’s book, and, to my utter amazement, a scan of the prescient page 12—which, it thus appears, I am not the only one to think was remarkably foresighted. Two hours later, you have this post. For better or worse.