Tag Archives: progress

In the future, we won’t have money, and we’ll all be socialists

My ideal vision of the future has always been as its portrayed in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Humanity has transcended all of the petty nonsense that we’re still fighting about today. Poverty has been eradicated. Common diseases are distant memories of a medical dark age hundreds of years in the past.


Technology in the twenty-fourth century (while admittedly looking more and more dated as the twenty-first century marches on) makes everything accessible to everyone. If you want something, you can fabricate it out of one of the ship’s many onboard replicating machines. It’s the same with food, just speak into the box, tell it what you want, and zap! There it is, bon appetit. Entertainment via the Holodeck is so much more immersive than the trivial pastimes we occupy ourselves with today.

And it’s more than just food and games. Transportation is completely reimagined. With transporters and faster-than-light warp drives, traveling to and from work must be a non-issue. People of the future don’t have to take the subway anywhere. The whole idea of commuting is probably as antiquated as a horse-and-buggy seems to subway riders today.

My point in all of this is to look at our own technological advancement. I’m a firm believer that we’re well on our way to not only achieving, but probably surpassing all of the feats of advancement on display in Star Trek. Three-dimensional printers are just becoming a commercially viable commodity, and so the ability to replicate various objects might soon be a reality for the developed world. Similarly, as driverless cars inevitably take over the roadways, traffic, parking, car accidents, they’re all bound to become headaches of the past.

And as technology takes over more and more of the heavy lifting involved with day-to-day life, how is this going to affect the economy, our sense of wealth, our very definition of the word liberty? I ask this because, in Star Trek anyway, everything is free. Futuristic machines are so ubiquitous that it wouldn’t make sense to charge anybody for goods and services. No, the very idea of currency does not mesh with the utopian economy built on a foundation of infinite clean energy.

If we ever get there, or to some version of something like the world they have on Star Trek, how are we going to make that transition? How are people in charge going to give up their ability to demand a percentage of our own personal wealth in exchange for whatever it is they have to be offering? Or will things stay the same way they are now, a group of people at the top taking a greater percentage of what I would argue should be equally divided?

Take transportation as an example. Let’s look at taxicabs. A driver might not own his own car, he might lease it from a central dispatching agent. But in the process of me getting from point A to point B, I’m paying the driver, and ultimately those profits go on to not only sustain the greater taxi company, but to support the driver’s income.

And so what happens when that driver’s job is replaced by a computer? Is the price of a ride going to go down? I can’t imagine any taxi company willing to lower the fare. I mean, the fact that we’re willing to pay a certain price now shows that the amount is somewhat reasonable. So what’s happening in this potential scenario is that the owner of all the taxis, now free from worrying about assuming the liability of hiring drivers, gets to take home all of the profit, leaving a now unemployed segment of the workforce to look for some other means of earning money.

As technology takes over more and more aspects of society, where is everybody supposed to work? It’s just going to increase this divide, that those in power, those currently with wealth, they’re going to maximize and multiply what they currently have, leaving everyone else with a constantly shrinking piece of the pie.

There are signs that it’s happening already. Look at music and writing. When I was growing up, a CD cost about fifteen bucks. I got a physical object, and a lot of people made money producing that object, selling those objects, it was all part of a system. It was the same way with books and booksellers. But now those commodities are largely digital. We’re getting the same product, the same work of art, but there’s no longer the economy supporting the manufacture and sale of those goods.

And the prices aren’t really that much cheaper. Songs are over a dollar each on iTunes, and publishing companies and authors are constantly fighting with Amazon over how much a digital book should cost. Because as technology grows, the idea of currency doesn’t make sense.

I don’t know how they did it in Star Trek, but they somehow got to the point where nobody pays for anything. People with a lot of money had to give up their extreme riches in order for everybody to share in the wealth and utopia ushered in by a golden age of technological progress. I think we’ll eventually have to deal with how that’s going to work in current society. And it’s going to be tough.

If machines do most of our work, is there still going to be that mentality where you have to work forty hours a week? If poverty doesn’t exist, are we still going to judge those least fortunate for their lack of a work ethic? If you had all of your basic needs met and didn’t really have to do anything, would you still toil away at a job that you didn’t like? In Star Trek, nobody has to, and nobody does. They find something they want to do because they enjoy it, and money isn’t a problem. I have no idea how we’re ever going to get there, but I hope that we do, because the future is coming whether we like it or not.

Crisis Time

I don’t believe in the crisis, in the economy, in whatever it is that’s supposed to be so bad about today, about right now, the age in which we’re living. The market tanked in 2008, everything got really bad, and we’re still trying to get out of it. That’s the narrative, right? I don’t buy it.

I think it’s all made up, a bunch of nonsense. Sure, something definitely happened. There was a housing bubble. Governments let banks do a bunch of stuff that they weren’t supposed to be doing. Lots of people lost lots of money. I’m not trying to trivialize stuff like people losing their homes of being out of work.

But crisis? Still? It’s 2013. There’s no crisis. Take two seconds out of your life and look up the Great Depression on the Internet. And then think about our “Great” recession. There weren’t any bread lines. The government didn’t have to start directly hiring its own citizens (although it should have.)

I’m just saying, this is supposedly the worst time in our nation’s history since the Great Depression. But everybody has an iPhone. Everybody’s still paying a ridiculously high monthly contract to use that iPhone. Everybody has access to the Internet. How is the crisis at all making our lives different?

Since 2008 I’ve gone to Ecuador with the Peace Corps. I came back to the US and had no trouble getting two different restaurant jobs. Things are supposed to be so bad, but there hasn’t been any decrease in the number of tourists travelling to New York to spend twenty dollars on a cheeseburger. Maybe it’s just because I live in New York, but all I see are people throwing money around, on cabs, on food, on cell phones and clothing.

By this point the crisis has to be totally manufactured. It’s good for politics. Each side came blame the other side as the reason for why things aren’t getting better. But things aren’t getting worse. I’d argue that there’s no real progress. If both sides got together and really charted a course for the future, history has shown us that there are great leaps we can take forward as a society.

And there are plenty of real problems. If we could stop fighting about how to pool our resources, we could eliminate poverty, we could commission new public works, provide higher education for everybody, even basic education. But there’s no time for that? Why? Because five years later we’re still just coming out of a recession. Right. We’re still in crisis mode. There’s no time think about anything except the immediate present.

Crisis is good for big business. Banks, conglomerates, they’re all making record profits. All while the rest of us are just kind of doing the same as we’ve always been doing. They can justify not hiring because, just like I said above, they can say, hey, things are still shaky. We’re too soon out of this mess.

I’m not going anywhere with this. I don’t like sounding preachy. I just think that the crisis is a bunch of baloney. As a species, we have the means to feed everybody on the planet, but we don’t. We have the means to help everybody get out of poverty, but we aren’t doing that. It’s too easy for us to point the finger at some imaginary mess, to say to those that aren’t doing so great, listen, you should be able to help yourself out buddy.

I’d love to see redistribution on a large scale. I’d love to see the government come in and mandate ridiculously high taxes for those hoarding all of their wealth. Because the people who have a lot, the people who have power, they aren’t using that power to make anything better for society at large. They’re stalling. They’re in the way. They cry crisis at every attempt to actually do something. Because they don’t want anything done. They have no reason to. Crisis has been good for business, great for their own bottom lines. Why change anything?

What would I do if society collapsed?

I’ve somehow managed to carve out an existence for myself. I’m alive. I’m living in a major American city. I have cash in my pocket. That’s fine. Everything’s fine. Two years ago I was waiting tables at a restaurant. One day I got bored and walked into another restaurant and now I’m waiting tables over there. Terrific. I’m in pretty good shape. I try to eat right, you know, in between binging at McDonald’s or White Castle. I run a lot. Fantastic.

But what if society were to collapse tomorrow? Let’s say zombie apocalypse. Or let’s not, because that’s kind of overdone. But imagine the same post-zombie apocalypse, just minus the zombies. Imagine no cities, no big populations of people, no societal rules, no infrastructure, no Internet. Just roving bands of human beings scavenging from site to site, occasionally coming upon another group of human beings, struggling for scarce resources, fighting for power.

All I want to do right now is to have as much of a life of leisure as possible. What would my role be in this new world? I think about this because if you look back at history, compared to the majority of homo sapiens that have walked this surface of this planet, I’m living a life of incredible luxury. Not only that, but I’m not really doing anything for it. I was born into this reality of highways and refined petroleum and microprocessors. My government sent people to the moon like twenty years before I was even born.

Here I am traipsing around, serving hamburgers to businessmen for lunch, riding my bicycle home and writing a bunch of nonsense on the Internet. If I’m hungry I go into my fridge. If I’m too lazy to put something together, I can walk down the block and buy a hot meal from like eighty-five different restaurants. If I’m even lazier I can call up any one of those eighty-five restaurants and pay somebody there to get on his bicycle and ride that food over to my place.

Boom. Nuclear war. Giant asteroid. Some sort of weird global pandemic that kills everybody shorter than six foot three. All of the sudden I’m back to my roots, back to my caveman roots. I’ll only be able to stand around in the burnt out shell of my apartment, mourning my losses, sifting through endless piles of rubble for so long before I start to get hungry. And then I’ll get really hungry. And I’ll walk through the streets and maybe I’ll run into some other people. And we’re all really hungry. And thirsty. And where do I go to the bathroom? And what do I use to clean myself off? And now I’d like to brush my teeth.

I’m not trying to make any point, except to remind myself that this humdrum life I’m living is a very pampered one. Three hundred years ago I might have been … what? What would I have been? At twenty-eight years old, I’d probably have grandkids by now. Would we all be toiling away in the fields? Constantly preparing for drought, for famine, any way to stave off the all but inevitable hunger?

Or would I even be alive? When I was a kid I had strep throat like three times. I had the chicken pox. Pink eye. In the eighth grade I had meningitis. Jesus. What about my cavities? Maybe I wouldn’t be alive. Maybe I’m not cut out for real nature, like raw pre-industrial society pre-Purell nature.

Whenever I start thinking about this, I always wind up going back even further, way back. There was definitely a time before human beings. Now there are human beings. What was the first generation of humans like? How far removed were they from the rest of the animal kingdom? What must it have been like to live as a human, as a group of human, before speech, before language was invented, before anybody had the chance to sit around and think about what’s right and what’s wrong.

No, nobody had time for reflection, because all anybody was thinking about was food, about not being hungry, about satisfying primitive needs. Was there any pleasure at all in life? What gets me crazy is that our ancestors actually had to live through that. That those experiences are all part of us, somewhere, deep down. And that if catastrophe were to strike, were somehow to erase everything that we’ve built up since then, we’d be back to some sort of a square one, a shared experience revolving around a base means of trying to stay alive.

And then I snap out of my daydream and I’m sitting here at this computer, frustrated because I can’t think of anything to write about, can’t get comfortable because the heat is too strong because it’s too cold outside. And I’m too full because I ate too big of a lunch.

Nothing better than an ice cold Coke

I’ll grab a cold drink out the fridge. I’ll open a bottle of soda or beer and just as the cap makes that pop sound I think to myself, how totally ridiculous is it that I can have cold carbonated beverages on demand? I don’t think like this all the time, just once in a while. Usually I’m thinking about or how crazy it is that we all have the Internet, how we have all of this information and media at our disposal, how we don’t have to buy CDs anymore, how we don’t have to buy stamps. How we’re the first generation being this close to instant material gratification. I’ll be really thirsty and I’m just enjoying a nice ice cold Coke Classic, and I’ll stop and think about all of this, and it’s equally absurd to think about even all of the small stuff, like a bottle of Coke, that I have at my fingertips.

What did people drink a hundred years ago? Water? That’s it? Juice maybe? What goes into carbonating stuff? How did it become so commercially successful to add bubbles to everything? I know that if you make beer from scratch the bubbles are produced naturally. But soda? How did the first sodas get bubbly? And beer now isn’t even made from scratch, it’s made in these big vats and then they boil it to kill all the active yeast and then they add all of the CO2 artificially.

That’s really not important though. It’s just when you consider progress, and I’m considering it right now, I wind up thinking that we’re so special, that we’re this pioneer generation, the first ones to benefit from all of the stuff available now, the first this, the first that. But soda is a pretty recent invention. So is refrigeration. When Coke came out didn’t it cost like a nickel a bottle? I have no idea. My grandfather always used to talk about stuff that cost a nickel when he was a kid, so I just have all of these sepia colored imagined memories of the past where everything’s five cents, and people are still complaining about it being too expensive.

But imagine you’re living back in the day when Coke first came out, and it’s super cheap. Everyone must have felt like a king. Or a queen, you know, if you were a lady. But it must have felt great to walk into a drugstore and buy a bottle of Coke. And you could stand outside and find some empty milk crate or some box and you could put one leg up on that milk crate and you could rest your arm, the same arm that’s holding the bottle of Coke, you could rest it on your raised knee and take a big sip of ice cold Coke and think to yourself, Jesus, this has to be the pinnacle of human development. And that first year that Coke was available, like really available, to every single person, it must have been such a great year, everyone really appreciating every sip of ice cold carbonated soft drink.

But then Sprite probably came out and maybe it was still kind of exciting, but it definitely couldn’t have been as exciting. And then even though soda was available, there were plenty of other things that weren’t available, like penicillin, or modern dental care, and the buses were still segregated, and maybe you’d get drafted into a war and maybe you’d run out of nickels and you wouldn’t even be able to buy a Coke, you’d just be back to plain old water.

And when I think all of this is so great, all of our modern technology, am I truly loving it? Am I really appreciating everything that we have that generations past have not had? Or is it not about the actual innovations, but just about that feeling, that feeling of having what once did not exist. Like when I first got an iPhone, man, that was something special. After a couple of years, it’s still somewhat special, but at the same time, it’s just my cell phone. I don’t have that better, superior feeling. And I get so wrapped up in my life, my world, I forget about all the stuff that’s comparable today to no penicillin and inequality and I don’t want to list the specifics of all of the negative aspects of the modern age, because I wouldn’t really be making any new or significant insights, and it would all be such a bummer, such a negative letdown.

I just can’t imagine what it’s going to be like towards the end of my life, how different the world is going to look. And how am I going to feel about the Internet in the future? Will it still seem so cool in comparison with whatever technological marvels the future will surely bring? Or maybe society will collapse and I’ll be telling my grandkids about the Internet, how it was the best thing our species had ever created, but civilization collapsed and now there is no Internet, and nobody knows how to get it back because we’re all too busy raiding these boarded up grocery stores, trying to sneak in and carry out cases of Coke and Sprite and Fanta without getting caught, because the Coke factory closed down when society closed down, and nobody knows how to carbonate the Coke, and you save all of your soda for wintertime, when you bury it under the snow, because there aren’t anymore refrigerators, well, there still are, but no electricity to run them. Some people have generators, but nobody’s refining oil into gas, and maybe there is no more gas, and so the snow trick is the only way for the average person to enjoy an ice cold Coke, and I think that, if I had to live in the burnt out remains of what was once a great civilization, no Internet, no TV, I think that an ice cold Coke would do just the trick, it would be just what I need, to close my eyes for a second, rest one of my legs up on some chair or stool, and just let it all wash down, the bubbles, the cold, the taste more than anything else of who we are and what we once had.