User:ThomasW/Notes Imaginary Futures

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Barbrook, Richard (2007) Imaginary Futures: From Thinking Machines to the Global Village Paperback , London , Pluto Press

Theat the IBM pavilion: ‘The Information Machine’. After taking their places in the 500-seat ‘People Wall’, visitors were elevated upwards into the egg-shaped structure. Once inside, a narrator introduced a 12 minute, 9-screen, 14-projector, slide- and-film performance with a stereophonic sound commentary provided in a choice of five languages. The theme of this ‘mind-blowing’ multi-media show was how computers solved problems in the same way as the human mind. Barbrook, 2007 page 63

The audience learnt that the System/360 mainframes exhibited in the IBM pavilion were in the process of acquiring consciorking at the cutting-edge of social theory: cybernetics without Wiener. Their fascination with Shannon’s analysis soon led them to the discovery of the writings of Harold Innis. According to this Canadian thinker, the ‘movement of information’ played the primary role in shaping human societies. From this premise, Innis explained the process of historical evolution. The invention of a new form of media had always led to the emergence of a new civilization" Barbrook, 2007 page 294

Playboy: Isn’t this prediction of an electronically induced world consciousness more mystical than technological?McLuhan: Yes … Mysticism is just tomorrow’s science dreamed today.’ Barbrook, 2007 page 306

Even the embarrassing failures of prophecy had been erased from the collective memory. Instead of re-examining their credibility, the key predictions of the 1964 New York World’s Fair were reworked many times to ensure that these old futures always looked like the latest thing. Barbrook, 2007 page 202


imaginary Futures excerpts

THE PAST The model of the future offered to me as an adult in late-2000s London is the same future promised to me as a child at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. What is even weirder is that – according to the prophecies made more than four decades ago – I should already be living in this wonderful future.

Computers were described as ‘thinking’ so the hard work involved in designing, building, programming and operating them could be discounted.

While some prioritised defending civil liberties at home, most of them were convinced that the first priority of the American Left was to prove its anti-Stalinist credentials in the Cold War confrontation. Since socialism – in all its interpretations – was a dangerous foreign concept, a more patriotic form of radical politics had to be developed. During the long period of conservative rule of 1950s, this aspiration became the rallying-call for a new movement of progressive intellectuals: the Cold War Left.

THE NOW As the most liberal nation on earth, the United States must also be the furthest advanced along the path towards socialism. The Iraq War was not only a war for oil, but also, more importantly, a war for media. When the US military’s hi-tech victories were covered live and in fullcolour on the global TV news bulletins, the whole world would understand that the United States was the most advanced nation on the planet.

For pro-American politicians like Blair, adopting an independent foreign policy implied much more than the dangerous reordering of geopolitical space. Above all, this shift threatened their certainties about time. It was almost unthinkable that the future might not be American.

THE FUTURE When the owner of the future controlled the present, geopolitical rivalries and class conflicts were focused upon the struggle between opposing definitions of the global village. At various times from the 1950s to the 2000s, the information society was identified as a state plan, a military machine, a mixed economy, a university campus, a hippie commune, a free market, a medieval community and a dotcom firm.

Contrary to the tenets of McLuhanism, the convergence of media, telecommunications and computing has not – and never will – liberate humanity. The Net is a useful tool not a redemptive technology. Cooperative creativity and participatory democracy should be extended from the virtual world into all areas of life. This time, the new stage of growth must be a new civilisation.