Thursday, February 27, 2014

Utopia

Since people are more motivated by positive thoughts than negative thoughts, I've decided to write something positive today. The subject is utopia. I have been intrigued by it ever since I was in college and learned about New Harmony, IN. The town was founded in 1814 by a group called the Harmonists, who were led by George Rapp. They were religious Germans skilled in the trades, and in a short period built a thriving town in the wilderness on the Wabash River and sent their goods as far away as New Orleans. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, Rapp decided to move the Harmonists to the Pittsburgh area in 1824. In 1825 he sold the entire town and 20,000 acres to the Scottish industrialist, Robert Owen, who wished to establish a utopian community. Owen then invited various intellectuals to live in New Harmony, and several social experiments were attempted. However, the intellectuals were not industrious and disagreed on how to run things. In 1829 New Harmony was dissolved. Many ideas were tested there, some good, some bad. Much of the town is intact today.

During the early 19th century, utopian religious groups flourished in many parts of the U.S. When I lived in Illinois I came across the town of Bishop Hill, which was settled by Swedish Pietists in 1846. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was born in Vermont in 1805 not far from where I live now. I sympathize with the idealism of such groups, but am unable to reconcile myself with their religious views. In short, the leaders tend to be quacks.

I am a late adopter of new technology and am sort of a Luddite. I didn't get my first computer until 2004, and I'm currently typing on my second one. I didn't have a cell phone until 2007 and I acquired my first smartphone a few days ago. Since I'm cheap, I don't have a data package and only pay about $38 per month. Still, I can use the Internet through our wireless router.

My thought for the day is that someone should write a futuristic novel describing how the world is transformed into a utopia by smartphones. Actually, you could argue that it has already started. Low-end models are becoming essential in developing countries such as Kenya, where they make life much easier for millions.

In the novel, everyone eventually owns a smartphone. Depending on the author's preferences, smartphones could, say, be integrated with the body and use holographic projections instead of screens, or, alternatively, be something like Google Glass. Eventually all transactions are done on smartphones. At this future date, there is little need for human labor in the developed world. Robots, computers and software have eliminated most jobs. Most people work part-time in government-subsidized sinecure-like positions. Yet there are still powerful corporations influencing the government to maximize their profits. There are still wars, and global warming has accelerated. After a lengthy battle in Congress, with filibusters and shutdowns, the right to vote on smartphones is passed by both houses, signed by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court against challenges. Android has become the dominant operating system on smartphones. Then, in a surprise decision, Google announces that it is purchasing Netflix and merging with Wikipedia to form a new non-profit company. One of the free services offered is Wikivote, in which the smartphone owner is guided through the voting process and then votes on his or her smartphone. A couple of election cycles later, Google-Netflix-Wikipedia announces that it has perfected software and hardware for optimizing voting choices. Using new supercomputer technology, advanced software and a gigantic database, voters have the option of filling out a questionnaire and letting this system decide their votes for them. After another protracted battle in Congress and  Supreme Court challenges, computer-selected votes are approved.

This turns out to be a crucial step toward making the world a utopia. Automated voting succeeds to such a degree that voters completely lose interest in making autonomous voting decisions. Their lives are going well. As a consequence, Google-Netflix-Wikipedia becomes the de facto government in all countries that adopt its system. For-profit corporations and special interest groups lose what remaining power they had to influence political decisions. Over time, the system steers voters toward impartial, tech-savvy candidates who favor the further automation of government. Eventually, government is almost entirely automated. The Google-Netflix-Wikipedia company develops what comes to be considered the most efficient, effective and fair government system in the history of the world. Without the destructive intrusions of capitalism into government operations, wars and terrorism come to an end, global warming is reversed, and most legal issues disappear. Everyone lives happily ever after.

2 comments:

  1. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
    The title doesn’t belie it but it is similar to your idea (and funny).
    http://escapepod.org/2011/01/30/book-review-super-sad-true-love-story-by-gary-shteyngart/

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    1. Thanks for the link. I live in my alternate reality, especially in winter, and don't always hear about things like that. I don't think I'll read the book, though, because it sounds like entertainment fiction, which doesn't interest me in large doses.

      I am not a novelist and don't care to be one, but would like it if someone wrote a novel similar to the one I proposed. Anyone can write a novel about the near future, with new gadgets and people still behaving like people (with greater vulgarity as the usual trend). Futurologists tend to skip over the part in which a big transition is made from our present political and economic structure to one that actually works. My proposed model could show in detail how a transition from present-day crony capitalism to an egalitarian utopia where people are happy might occur. Once you implant ideas in people's brains, they can become reality. The pen is mightier than the sword. However, genre fiction just keeps consumers in their place.

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