So, there are topics that are perhaps a little harder to talk about in nerd and geek circles. We thrive on our shared fandoms, thrive on sharing our favorite shows, movies, and games with each other… Loan each other books, DVDs… Get into multiplayer games – or especially MMOs – to play them together…
However, on Comparative Geeks, we feel strongly about a couple of areas that are outside of these realms, and we will occasionally talk about them as well. So today, I wanted to start us talking a bit about political issues.
Now, in terms of politics, we aim to avoid taking a confrontational approach. Rather than join in the partisan politics of the day – which we feel like is much of the reason that politics is avoided in polite discussion – we would rather look at politics in a science fictional way.
After all, we’re all embroiled today in partisan battles of this should or should not be law; or, we should fund this, not that. Tax this but not that. War here, but not there. If you take a little further view of things, however, and think just a little in terms of science fiction, a lot of today’s problems disappear – or grow much worse.
For a first consideration, we were thinking about the looming federal budget cuts here in the U.S. We are taking a vacation later in March, and are worried that the budget cuts will mean long delays for us going through TSA. We have overnight layovers in the middle of our flight both going and coming, so we will be going through security four times in three different airports – so we feel our concern is legitimate.
So, I have thought of a few scenarios that could be the future of our looming financial problem.
The Utopian Solution – Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!
One possible future I think is always kind of going to be that technology solves the problem. If large parts of the federal budget are going toward transportation and safety (air traffic control, TSA, customs, interstate commerce, interstate highway system…) then what if there were a totally safe and easy transportation system? Or what if individually controlled transportation was so good that we didn’t need this sort of government involvement?
Okay, so a couple of thoughts there. So for one, what about teleporters or transporters? If they could function over long distances, or with specific connections between two points, we would majorly cut down on the need to be monitoring other forms of transport. While I’m initially thinking Star Trek with this, I suppose on a normal-everyday-life-on-Earth sense it ends up being more like the Floo Network in Harry Potter. Centers where you can teleport where you need. Maybe a bit of security – but not a whole lot. And less wear and tear to keep up with.
But the other thought, of course, would be flying cars, or shuttlecraft. While there might be a need for some policing or air traffic control with this, it could be done on a far more local level, and would just be a more important part of the budget in areas with more travel like this. But again, no road wear to keep up with, and a lot less need for a lot of these other federal elements.
So I ask, where are my flying cars?
The Dystopian Possibility – Everything’s shiny, Cap’n. Not to fret.
Of course, the future can also go horribly wrong if our problems are not handled in the present. If we’re thinking specifically about balancing our budget, and handling our expenses and debt, then one possible future is that we end up having our debt defeat us, and having to find a way out. While there are plenty of bleak ways this could go – perhaps their own posts in the future? – one example we have seen of this in the culture is Firefly.
It sounds kind of like the old home planets (Earth?…) are used up, overpopulated, polluted… The future where we keep using, and spending, until we find a way off the planet, and go find other worlds for resources and space. This is what society is doing at the fringes of known space in Firefly: homesteading, basically. Staking a claim and trying to make a go of it, like westward expansion in America.
Of course, if we follow the Firefly thought, China and America eventually combine into a giant government corporation Alliance that does creepy, dystopian things. And where I see these two world powers combining would be over the national debt.
I suppose this might not end up at all dystopian, either, but the odds of the world’s two big powers playing along with each other and being friendly through a financial meltdown just doesn’t sound like the number one possibility to me. But given there are chances we may yet get to live through this, here’s hoping?
The Geeky Solution – Ready Player One
So one phrase from the New York Times article I linked to above that stuck with me was the thought that there will be a lot more staycations if air travel gets much more complicated. And then, in the old, excellent IBM commercial… is the Internet actually the future of travel? We don’t need to go anywhere, because we can bring the world to our homes?
With that, I present the fully sci-fi, geeky solution of virtual reality replacing our need for our transportation expenditures. We have been using Google Hangouts recently to play D&D with a friend overseas – no problem, even with three or four devices around a room all fighting for bandwidth to do the video chat. I remember when that used to kill the Internet. Now we have PCs, laptops, and iPads all on a video chat together over one wifi connection, with hardly any lag at all. The technology might really be getting there.
Meetings over video chat, of course. Vacations to exotic spaces through virtual reality? All of space and time from the comfort of your own home. It does seem like that would make a lot of things a lot more affordable.
Of course, part of what has me thinking about this line of thought is that I was recently recommended the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Recommended the book by Holly, mind you, so I’m sure she has more to say on the subject. But she told me enough to just be thinking about a future where we are using virtual reality more than we are living a life out in the world. It’s a possible future. The harder future to figure out is: do I read Ready Player One on Kindle, or do I listen to the audio book narrated by Wil Wheaton?