The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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John Brockman’s got his crew of deep thinkers he commissions with answering humankind’s big questions, I’ve got mine. So how ’bout it, folks? What are you optimistic about? Why?


I was thinking three things while I was reading through Edge’s question of the year: 1) geez, this is a lot of text!, 2) for at least a few of the respondents, their answers to Edge’s questions for the past three years could all have been the same — and 3) it would be awfully cool to get to be one of the people who got to answer a question like that for Edge — even if they seem to have an implicit/explicit ban on (almost all) literary authors, economists, political scientists, and scholars of literature or history.

Yeah, John Brockman needs to declare a ban on using the annual question as a platform to restate the theses of your last three books. Or, what Tim said, in a typically insightful Short Schrift post.

Agreed to both. In his post, Tim makes a good case for what an appropriate answer to this question might look like, and it’s definitely not ‘I’m optimistic that NANOBOTS WILL TURN OUR BLOOD INTO SUPER-JUICE. By the way, I study nanobots.’ Sigh.

For my part, I am optimistic that U.S. policy development might be about to thaw a bit. Forward movement on so many fronts in this country has been frozen for the last 5-6 years; while I’m not pinning all my hopes on the Democrats, at least a shake-up means there could be space for new ideas & new directions.

My favorite answers so far are those that express jaw-dropped, unrestrained wonder for our times. Last week, I posted to Snarkmarket from my laptop using my phone as a high-speed modem. Some of you may have gotten over that particular leap in techo-wizardry a while ago, but nine days later, I’m still tripping out over this. I’m living in the future. It’s incredible. These days, when I play Legend of Zelda, I actually swing the controller like a sword. I mean, what? Giddily overwritten answers like Kai Krause’s make me smile, ’cause I totally get it.

Counterpoint #1: Some oppressive percentage of the earth’s population will never play the Legend of Zelda swinging their controller like a sword, or for that matter ever behold a television, or for that matter ever enjoy regular access to clean drinking water.

Counterpoint #2: Technology is not an unmitigated good.

Counterpoint #3: Experiences like those I describe above, or those that Kai Krause drools over, are actually distractions manufactured by impossibly rich men to goad us away from the true wonders of the world, which predate mankind by many billion years.

And yet: If one thing seems constant and inexorable in the course of human history, it’s that we’re continually improving on our ability to enrich our imaginations, and to share the products of those imaginations with each other. For all that humankind has lost or destroyed, it has also created so much. And at no other time have as many of us had as much access to those creations.

I lamented to my spouse the other day that I felt I was truly living the Hemingway character

I like your and yet up there Matt. You refute wide-angle criticism by going even wider. The other thing that makes me optimistic is the fact that there’s never been anything like the internet — the wellspring of so many of these wonders — before. And anytime you have something truly NEW it’s a chance to bend the spiral of history up a bit.

It’s been an incredibly moody holiday season for me, and I’ve been meditating on the question like a knot that keeps slipping out of my hands. And I think that for all I’m pessimistic about the information technology revolution’s power of distraction and resource-sucking, I’m also cautiously optimistic that this will be outbalanced by the how it helps the powers of good–our best minds, our best impulses, our best ideas, our best states of kindness and bravery and focus–can overcome the their constant dispersal and dilution by time and geography.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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