Short Post: Can We Bring Tech Utopianism Back?

Or is it a bad time? Today’s post is going to be a bit unusual. It’s short. Imagine that the year is 2007 and this is your favorite gaming blog. That’s the vibe right now.

You know, it feels weird eulogizing tech utopianism now, since it’s well and truly dead. Already on unsteady ground as social media and the gig economy started to take over, rebooting a moribund software & internet industry and plugging us all into little slot machine panopticons, it’s been a bad joke ever since 2016. It’s stayed around as a mask worn by hucksters and scammers like Sam Bankman-Fried, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, and all the other tech and banking moguls who have spent the last decade telling us that actually, the little hell they’ve been creating is all worth it because we’re creating a better world with Bitcoin, or carbon credits, or turning your weird uncle into an insane flat earther. Now, with The Company Formerly Known As Facebook and Twitter and the cryptocurrencies seemingly imploding, and the rest of the tech industry looking like it’ll follow suit, it sounds like a really bad joke. Tech didn’t make the world better, it set piles of money on fire to give everyone an app for a personal servant, while making the rest of us poorer for it.

But seriously: Can we bring it back?

I’ve been reading a lot of history books lately, specifically with Fernand Braudel’s 3 volume epic Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, which excruciatingly goes over the living conditions of what we might call the early capitalist era, before the revolutions and factories but after the renaissance and the discovery of the Americas, Australia, and the rest of the New World. And it’s made me appreciate how much human potential has been squandered by 2 specific things: The inability to communicate over long distances, and the inability to really quickly copy information. The computer, the mobile phone, the datacenter, everything that we now call “tech” (which we only do because it’s an easy way for investors to group disparate businesses like the iPhone, Uber, and AWS together so they can bundle the stock in each company) has brought about one of the greatest and most incredible changes that we’ll ever see. Story Arc, for one, only exists because of these inventions. I know a lot of friends through the internet because we can bond over our mutual interests. Hell, most of my hobbies are from the internet! I wouldn’t be nearly as much of a manga or video game nerd without them. There have been incredible good changes from technology. It’s just that the rest of the world, its systems of control, has been hellbent on putting the good back in a box and controlling the bad. It’s why every rich person was so excited by cryptocurrency, because they see that we can download and copy books or comics or games for free and it scares them. 

The original tech utopianism was about all of that. It was about creating systems that destroy the systems that the wealthy and powerful use to control us. About finding common ground between people if they’re across the world from each other or in the same building. It was about getting stuff for free, because we’re alive. All of that is a failed utopia now, etched into the psychic geography right next to anarcho-federalist goal oriented communities. I’ve been playing Disco Elysium as of late, and that game gets at that feeling of failed utopias. Revachol is a city where every utopia, every ideology, has failed. But one sees the glimpses of the better world. That’s how I feel about technology right now. Every torrent, every weird blog, every long comment on a youtube video where an old man retells a huge portion of his life? It’s all a better world. We just have to reach out and touch it.

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