Tag Archives: Future

Why our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman gave a wonderful lecture on behalf of the British Reading Agency last October, arguing for the central importance of reading and libraries to our society:

Another way to destroy a child’s love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the children’s library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the children’s’ library I began on the adult books.

They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader – nothing less or more – which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

The entire lecture is well worth a read.

Neil Gaiman: Why our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming   [theGuardian]

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New Terms for New Sensations

Douglas Coupland, writing for the Independent, offers a list of definitions of new terms to describe the present moment, as none of the existing ones will quite do.

Airport-Induced Identity Dysphoria: Describes the extent to which modern travel strips the traveller of just enough sense of identity so as to create a need to purchase stickers and gift knick-knacks that bolster their sense of slightly eroded personhood: flags of the world, family crests, school and university merchandise.

Cloud Blindness: The inability of some people to see faces or shapes in clouds.

Crystallographic Money Theory: The hypothesis that money is a crystallization or condensation of time and free will, the two characteristics that separate humans from other species.

Frankentime: What time feels like when you realise that most of your life is spent working with and around a computer and the internet.

Ikeasis: The desire in daily life and consumer life to cling to “generically” designed objects. This need for clear, unconfusing forms is a means of simplifying life amid an onslaught of information.

Coupland’s new novel, Player One, is due out October 7th.

New Terms for New Sensations [The Independent]

15 Failed Predictions About the Future

Oddee.com has a list of 15 Failed Predictions About the Future. For example, in 1947 after the Boeing 247 was built, a Boeing engineer proudly proclaimed that “There will never be a bigger plane built!” The 247 was a twin-engine plane that could seat ten people.

15 Failed Predictions About the Future [Oddee.com]

Warning the Future About Nuclear Waste

Nuclear waste stays harmful for an incredibly long time; the signs at the United States’ Carlsbad disposal facility warn people not to dig or drill there until at least 12 000 AD. This leads to a considerable problem. What if the inhabitants of the 210th century don’t know how to read or speak English? They probably won’t understand what a radiation warning symbol means, either.

That makes it rather difficult to find ways to ensure that these radioactive tombs are never opened. Even if they could understand the warnings, are you sure they’d pay attention? Modern archaeologists frequently disturb the tombs of Egyptian Pharohs, despite warnings of a plethora of hideous curses.

The United States Department of Energy has allotted $1M to figure out some sort of acceptable 10 000 year marker system for their waste burial sites. Slate has a fascinating article on it. An exceprt:

During a 2004 cleanup operation at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, personnel digging through a trench uncovered a safe containing a glass bottle. And inside the bottle, white sludge. Tests identifying the substance as a type of plutonium gave way to more tests until, in the Spring of 2009, scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory revealed what, exactly, the crew had uncovered: A 1944 artifact from the fledgling nuclear weapons program—the oldest existing sample of bomb-grade plutonium from a nuclear reactor, with a half-life of 24,110 years. Although this sexagenarian sludge isn’t dangerous to touch—its particles are too large to penetrate skin—it’s poisonous if swallowed or inhaled and will be for centuries to come. Yet it was housed in a flimsy receptacle that should rightfully contain nothing more toxic than bleach. In the rush of nuclear discovery, the mid-century scientists never paused to consider that a trespasser might happen upon the safe and crack it open.

Since that time, “deep geological disposal” has replaced shallow trenches as our preferred nuclear-waste-storage technique. But another, more abstract problem—raised by the Hanford message in a bottle—remains unsolved: not how to store waste but how to label it. Not what container to use or where to bury it but how to explain the long-term dangers of what’s inside to a trespasser. This seemingly simple conundrum (just use a radiation hazard symbol!) is complicated by the fact that such a trespass would prove lethal if it took place not only in 60 years but in 10,000 or 100,000. China, the planet’s oldest continuous civilization, stretches back, at most, 5,000 years. And the world’s oldest inscribed clay tablets—the earliest examples of written communication—date only from 3,000 or 3,500 B.C. It’s impossible to say what apocalyptic event might separate 21st-century Americans from our 210th-century successors. Successors, mind you, who could live in a vastly more sophisticated society than we do or a vastly more primitive one.

How Can We Communicate the Dangers of Nuclear Waste to Future Civilizations? [Slate]

What Hath Captcha Wrought

2008-04-07-what-hath-captcha-wrought

Hilarious! I love it.

[Wellington Grey]

We’ll All Be Cyborgs Soon: Mad Scientist

Terminator-Salvati_1403891c

61-year-old Ray Kurzweil, who seems to be a mad scientist by trade, claims that within 20 years we’ll all be immortal cyborgs. He argues that with the rapidly advancing pace of biotechnology, we’re practically there. Ever get the feeling we’re taking things too far? From the Telegraph:

He says theoretically, at the rate our understanding is increasing, nanotechnologies capable of replacing many of our vital organs could be available in 20 years time.

Mr Kurzweil adds that although his claims may seem far-fetched, artificial pancreases and neural implants are already available.

Mr Kurzweil calls his theory the Law of Accelerating Returns. Writing in The Sun, Mr Kurzweil said: “I and many other scientists now believe that in around 20 years we will have the means to reprogramme our bodies’ stone-age software so we can halt, then reverse, ageing. Then nanotechnology will let us live for ever.

“Ultimately, nanobots will replace blood cells and do their work thousands of times more effectively.

“Within 25 years we will be able to do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath, or go scuba-diving for four hours without oxygen.

Immortality Only 20 Years Away Says Scientist [The Telegraph]

Aldous Huxley vs. George Orwell

I’ve just finished reading Brave New World, and I came across this cartoon, comparing the dystopian world views of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. I really agree with this strip. I fear Huxley may have predicted the future with a lot more accuracy than anyone thought at first…

Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Amusing Ourselves to Death