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Neal Stephenson On Fiction, Games, and Saving the World

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the not-necessarily-in-that-order dept.

Sci-Fi 91

An anonymous reader points out an interview with Neal Stephenson at The Verge in which he talks a bit about his upcoming "research-heavy" novel, his Mongoliad project to reinvent the fiction novel as an app, what he thinks about saving the world with sci-fi. He says, "It would be saying a lot to say that SF can save the world, but I do think that we've fallen into a habitual state of being depressed and pessimistic about the future. We are extremely conservative and fearful about how we deploy our resources. It contrasts pretty vividly with the way we worked in the first half of the 20th century. We are looking at a lot of challenges now that I do not think can be solved as long as we stay in that mindset. This is more of an 'if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail' kind of thing. My hammer is that I can write science fiction, so that's the thing I'm going to try to do. If I had billions of dollars sitting around, I could try to put my money where my mouth is and invest it. If I did something else for a living, I would be using my skills – whatever they were – to solve this problem, but since I'm a science fiction writer, I'm going to try to address it through the medium of science fiction."

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There's no problem really. (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41077573)

Through campaigns like global warming, excess population, excess resource consumption, threatened species, etc., we've been labelled as a cancer on the planet and the only proper solution is our elimination. Yes, there was the belief that we'd grow and spread through space finding new resources as needed but since that would now just be seen as a tumour in the process of metastasising. It won't be allowed to happen.

Give us a few more years and we'll be gleefully throwing ourselves into suicide booths secure in the knowledge that as each one of us dies the universe becomes a better place.

Re:There's no problem really. (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077639)

I completely agree with you.

You first. :P

Re:There's no problem really. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41077699)

Someone who doesn't recognize sarcasm when he sees it.

Messiah Complex (1, Insightful)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077695)

The Harry Porter novels were very very hot, so hot that the Harry Porter series became absolute blockbusters when turned into movie

After the fad is over, what's remain of Harry Porter?

Has the world changed because of Harry Porter?

Has the world changed because of James Bond, 007?

Has the world changed because of _any_ novel?

SciFi novels are novels, SciFi novels are no different from other genre of novels - and just like other novels, SciFi's basic aim is to provide the readers something to occupy their free time - and by reading the novel - the readers are transported by the writing into an imaginary realm

Many famous books had been written. Books like "Animal Farm", "World and Peace", "1984" did have their effects on their readers - unfortunately they too, have failed to change the world

Saying that SciFi can "transform" the world is to burden SciFi with unnecessary baggages
 

Re:Messiah Complex (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41077813)

Has the world changed because of _any_ novel?

Has the world changed because of _any_ one thing? If not, then the world hasn't changed at all and we are living in the same world that existing 50 years ago.

Re:Messiah Complex (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41077847)

You've been going through life all this time, content in the knowledge that the famous boy-wizard's name is Harry PORTER?

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#41087239)

You've been going through life all this time, content in the knowledge that the famous boy-wizard's name is Harry PORTER?

We call him "The Boy Who Carried Luggage".

Re:Messiah Complex (5, Insightful)

meerling (1487879) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077863)

Science Fiction has changed the world. Many people, scientists, philosophers, statesmen, engineers, and inventors have been inspired by sci-fi. Many things we have now were first the fanciful writings of authors, until somebody (usually a lot of somebodies) decided to make it real.

Does all sci-fi inspire these advancements? No, but more than enough do, it has a definite effect on our world.
Do the warnings that exist in some sci-fi work? Sometimes, but it's a lot harder to identify when something was changed because of the literature someone read, rather than inventions which are concrete and tangible. Although I'm sure you can recall at least a few cases where some form of governmental snooping was fought with the rallying cries of Big Brother and 1984.

So yes, sci-fi can transform the world, but like everything else, it's a slow process and often invisible. Not to mention, like so many other things that might alter the human society, fraught with more misses than successes. Of course, just because sci-fi has the possibility to sway mankind, or a portion of it, most of it was written for entertainment, not political ambitions. It's not "burdened with unnecessary baggage", rather it is recognized for the influence it occasionally has.

Re:Messiah Complex (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41077869)

Actually, the American Civil War may never have come about if it weren't for Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, _Uncle Tom's Cabin._ It brought the issue of slavery to the forefront of national discourse and galvanized opinions against it. As public outrage grew, the northern states started taking a hard line against slavery which led to increasing tensions; as new states were brought into the union, there were ever more hostile battles over whether each one would be a "slave state" or a "free state", and the south feared that the former would swiftly be outnumbered, dooming slavery in a generation or two. Fears that the increasingly anti-slavery north would become openly abolitionist were a prime reason for the secession and subsequent war.

Re:Messiah Complex (2)

albeit unknown (136964) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077935)

Harry Potter had a major impact on the number of children who spent time reading. The resulting intellectual development has to have had some positive impact on the world.

Re:Messiah Complex (3, Funny)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079507)

Sadly, I think the effect may be offset completely by the "Twilight" "novels".

Re:Messiah Complex (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#41085119)

You don't offset a negative with another negative!

Re:Messiah Complex (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41077969)

Novels that changed the world? "Uncle Tom's Cabin", "The Jungle" and "Atlas Shrugged" come pretty quickly to mind, all of which have influenced the course of societies around the world.

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

lxs (131946) | more than 2 years ago | (#41078853)

In which alternate Universe did Atlas Shrugged change the world?

Re:Messiah Complex (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41079631)

Marvel maybe?

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

Phreakiture (547094) | more than 2 years ago | (#41081445)

No alternate is necessary. The novel's concepts do not have to come to complete fruition for it to have had an impact. For better or for worse, a portion of the politically active population cites this novel for inspiration. That, in and of itself, changes the world.

Just remember: not all change is for the better.

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

denvergeek (1184943) | more than 2 years ago | (#41081667)

Ever hear of this guy named Alan Greenspan?

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#41087899)

In which alternate Universe did Atlas Shrugged change the world?

The one in which the head of the Federal Reserve was a huge Ayn Rand groupie [wikipedia.org] ? And was appointed by a former film star?

Fifth trans-warp tunnel on the left, just after Dinoctopus-Mollusc World. No, not the fourth - that's the one where the Queen of England is a member of Queen. We don't a repeat of that little fracas.

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#41085155)

Also The Turner Diaries and Mein Kampf...it would be great if a couple of sci-fi books could influence societies as much as Atlas Shrugged and The Turner Diaries, but carrying an opposite message in each case...

Re:Messiah Complex (2)

JosephTX (2521572) | more than 2 years ago | (#41078117)

You can't assert that novels don't have an effect on society just because the author doesn't single-handedly put an end to all the problems they address like they're superman or something.

Also: did you REALLY just say "Harry Porter" THREE times?

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

sempir (1916194) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079607)

Also: did you REALLY just say "Harry Porter" THREE times?

He did, and just wait till he reads "Harry Porter and the Karma Surtra", he's going to get his mind blown!

Re:Messiah Complex (5, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#41078943)

Has the world changed because of _any_ novel?

Has the world changed because of any works of fiction? Let's think.. the Bible, the Quran, Xenu's Big Book Of Fun (or whatever Scientologists' scriptures are called), etc..

Re:Messiah Complex (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41079877)

1984, Animal Farm, Atlas Shrugged, The Prince, The Art of War

It appears that our elite have received the lessons from these stories and gone on to amass massive personal power and wealth.

Re:Messiah Complex (2, Insightful)

Internetuser1248 (1787630) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079253)

The Harry Porter novels... ...unnecessary baggages

MODS: This is clearly a troll, it is not even a particularly good one. It should not be +3. When I come back I want to see it relegated to -1, troll where it belongs. For those too stupid to see why, consider the following: 1) No one spells harry potter wrong, as much as I would love to live in a world where people weren't inundated with the harry potter logo from birth I sadly don't. 2) How can someone be educated enough to have heard of war and peace, and yet ignorant enough to think it is called world and peace? 3) Everyone knows books have had a significant impact on the world, denying that can only be trolling. The main point seems to be 'the world is how it is, so change didn't happen'. Even if this guy is stupid enough to believe what he is saying, being modded down correctly might help him to rethink that.

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

V for Vendetta (1204898) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079665)

Saying that SciFi can "transform" the world is to burden SciFi with unnecessary baggages

I agree. "Transforming the world" is clearly the realm of Fantasy, like LotR, Holy Bible, Koran etc.

Re:Messiah Complex (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41080499)

What are you blithering on about?

How did you get from modern escapist fiction to "any novel"? And from there, back to Orwell, somehow simultaneously with Tolstoy?

Just focusing on your first example, it's obvious to anyone with eyes to see how Harry Potter and James Bond have changed the world. Both prompted a resurgence in their respective genres, not just in literature but in film as well. Or is that only "free time" as well? Harry Potter has prompted discussions and religious mania on the topic of magic which in turn has prompted debates on censorship. James Bond managed to simultaneously lampoon and encourage the modern era of technology in spy craft as well as enthusing people to recreate the fantastic inventions from the films in real life.

Who are you to say what Sci Fi's "basic aim" is? That may be the aim of the Sci Fi you read - if so, I suggest you raise your sights a little.

Sci Fi has demonstrably changed the world. If spent more time reading and less time watching the idiot box you'd have come across many of the scientists and inventors who reference their debt to their childhood reading in their own publications.

And it's "Harry PotTer", retard.

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

BlackCreek (1004083) | more than 2 years ago | (#41081415)

> After the fad is over, what's remain of Harry Porter?

Harry Potter books were/are so popular that they are seen as tools to increase literacy. It is not by chance that the first volume was translated into all sorts of minority or even dead languages (latin, old greek etc), people figured it out that it would be a good way to get folks reading those languages again.

http://www.mezzoguild.com/2011/11/30/learning-languages-from-harry-potter/ [mezzoguild.com]

I actually used the printed version of HPotter 1 together with its audio book when starting to study French.

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | more than 2 years ago | (#41081735)

Many famous books had been written. Books like "Animal Farm", "World and Peace", "1984" did have their effects on their readers - unfortunately they too, have failed to change the world

The effects are impossible to quantify, but most definitely have an effect on the world. If not for the movie War Games for example, I probably wouldn't have become a computer junkie. My life would have been totally different. That probably holds true for a lot of people. So that would be a change. Maybe the world has too much momentum in one direction for any single piece of fiction to radically change things, but then again, maybe not. We have no way of knowing.

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 2 years ago | (#41085477)

I disagree.

First, books change invididuals, and those individuals can change history.

Second, having a common frame of reference in a famous book (1984, Brave New World...) can help societies as a whole become aware of and spot issues more quickly.

Re:Messiah Complex (1)

bsercombe72 (1822782) | more than 2 years ago | (#41091255)

Has the world changed because of ANY novel you say? Are you REALLY REALLY sure you can back that argument 100%? Let me try a few examples of Novels that changed the world on you: Various Artists: The Bible (My argument: a work of fiction, ergo a novel) Various Artists: The Koran (My argument: a work of fiction, ergo a novel) Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon (When you cast an idea like this into the minds of many many people it has a big influence) Jules Verne: 20000 leagues under the sea (portraying a submarine as more than just a two-man temporary transport but as a place to live and work) The world would certainly be different without modern submarines) Al Gore: An Inconvenient Truth (We will one day have much to curse Al Gore for) Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx: The Communist Manifesto (Surely you can't argue that the popularisation of Communism didn't change the world. Again, in my opinion virtually a novel when it was published...

At last a return to activist writers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41077585)

I vividly remember Heinlein's "For us the living" and the obviousness and simplicity of the ideas it presented, and why I wondered "why don't we do it that way".

A hammer is not just for driving nails (2)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077591)

you can do a (metric) shit-ton with a hammer as long as you know how to wield it. yea you can drive nails, but you can also do so much more as well, IE take a flat sheet of metal and craft it into a work of art.

Maybe thats the problem, a hammer is for driving nails, and we go out and buy a stupid expensive hand press that performs the same act as someone who is skilled with a hammer to do the same thing.

2 cents

Declining Real Wage? (3, Insightful)

MikeTheGreat (34142) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077661)

I wonder if our ever-declining real wage is connected to our pessimism?

If I thought that my life was going to be Better In The Future For Sure then I'd be much more likely to take risks, try stuff that might not work, and generally be more optimistic. When I'm confident that my life will be as-good-or-better than now then I could always say "well, that was a nice experiment, too bad it didn't work, thank goodness it will not substantially impact the remainder of my life"

And, just because I feel like I ought to provide a citation:
http://www.workinglife.org/wiki/Wages+and+Benefits%3A+Real+Wages+(1964-2004) [workinglife.org]

Re:Declining Real Wage? (3, Insightful)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077755)

Yep. My own pessimism comes from watching an unsustainable economy (basically a Ponzi scheme based on perpetual growth) on a collision course with the laws of physics in a finite world.

Since I don't subscribe to magical thinking, I'm convinced there must come a time when the population stops growing, when the birth rate matches the mortality rate. It might be really messy. And the lack of political will to address the fundamentals makes me pessimistic and cynical.

But the prospect for real change and a sustainable future excites me. I hope SF writers, engineers, and thinking people can come up with a saner, more grounded future.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077953)

an unsustainable economy (basically a Ponzi scheme based on perpetual growth) on a collision course with the laws of physics in a finite world

Bam! There it is. Pointless regurgitation of Malthusian economic theory. It is as true today as when Malthus spouted his nonsense in the XIXth century. The fact is the world is large enough that it doesn't matter and if it did there is the rest of the solar system and lots of other solar systems in the galaxy. There are also other galaxies. The resources are as good as infinite. The only issue is how to economically extract the resources and that is solvable with technology.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (4, Insightful)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077993)

the world is large enough that it doesn't matter and if it did there is the rest of the solar system and lots of other solar systems in the galaxy. There are also other galaxies.

If the world is large enough for exponential growth forever, why do you hedge your bet with the implicit assertion that we'll develop faster-than-light travel?

Please google "most important video you'll ever see", hear Dr. Bartlett out, then, please, seriously, do me the favor of letting me know what it is he and I are missing.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 2 years ago | (#41078053)

Faster than light travel? You don't need that for interstellar flight. Proxima Centauri is 4.24 light-years away. Even Epsilon Eridani is only 10.5 light-years away. Develop suspended animation or artificial wombs, which do not require new physics to be developed, and the amount of consumables required to make a trip are reduced.

You are concerned about lack of resources or space on Earth. The fact is we don't even use all the land on Earth for living and that is only 1/3 of the surface of the planet. There are proposals to build kilometer high buildings and the current tallest building in the world is 829.84 m high. Lack of living space is not a problem. Lack of food is not a problem because our food supply (plants and animals) also increases at a geometric rate.

In the long run life forms which do not expand get out competed.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#41078751)

Suspended animation or artificial wombs, plus a new form of propulsion that can get you there in only a couple of centuries at sub-light, plus robotics that can handle the reanimation (Or even harder, raising of children), and all that on technology that can continue to function for centuries without repair. It doesn't break any laws of physics, but just because it is possible doesn't mean it is easy.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079069)

Possible forms of interstellar propulsion have been proposed since the 1950s and 1960s. These include nuclear pulse propulsion and anti-matter catalyzed versions of it if you want to shrink the spaceship at the cost of more exotic engineering. I never said it was easy but it is neither impossible nor unheard of. Any manned mission will most likely be preceded by robotic missions (fly-bys and one-way trips to the actual destination). Tsiolkovsky proposed multiple stage LOX/LH2 rockets in 1903. The actual engineering work had not been done back then either. Yet the Saturn V rocket had two working LOX/LH2 stages in the late 1960s. In my opinion were it not for political restrictions on nuclear engineering we would have nuclear rockets already even if they were just of the comparatively boring nuclear thermal variety.

A lot of advances happened in the second part of the XXth century and more are happening now even if a lot of people fail to notice them. The most well known is integrated circuits but you also have advances in optics including lasers, adaptive optics, superconductors, anti-matter production and storage, uranium separation, composite materials, inflatable heat shields, ion propulsion, solar sails, etc.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41080081)

But, you see, more people = more growth. Thus you'd have to send out more ships to colonize more planets as you colonize more planets that grow. Because: more planets = more resources = sustain population = grow population = can't sustain = send outside. And since once we send outside we more planets... Unless we want to take over the universe and beyond, eventually we'll have to stop.

That's not taking into account that sometimes traveltime will be so long without FTL travel (or even with) that you'll be sending out people while the ones you send before haven't even reached their destination. Of course, I'm not taking into account any sort of illness that may reduce our numbers, but I think that's probably not going to be a big factor when we reach what I'm explaining.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41082211)

But, you see, more people = more growth. Thus you'd have to send out more ships to colonize more planets as you colonize more planets that grow. Because: more planets = more resources = sustain population = grow population = can't sustain = send outside. And since once we send outside we more planets... Unless we want to take over the universe and beyond, eventually we'll have to stop.

It took us around 100,000 years (most of the work done in the last 10,000 years) to outgrow Earth.

I'm willing to leave "solving the problem of outstripping their colonized worlds" as a problem for our descendants in the year 20,000-50,000. If it takes 100,000 years to (a) send a colony to a world, (b) bootstrap civilization on that world to the point that the colony can launch its own ship, and (c) have the colony's ship hop to the next world, I'm equally willing to leave "solving the problem of outstripping the resources of the galaxy" for whatever species those descendants have evolved into by the year 10,000,000.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#41083241)

The population growth of a culture seems to drop off once they reach the state of modern western cultures. A few of their core ideals - prolonged education, gender equality, access to contraception - are very effective at reducing breeding. It's possible that if that particular culture spreads and comes to fully dominate the world, population growth may slow to almost nothing or even reverse.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 2 years ago | (#41082449)

Please hear Dr. Bartlett [youtube.com] out, then let's discuss. I'd appreciate it if you would point out any flaws.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079381)

...we'll develop faster-than-light travel?

You mean to tell me it will never ever happen? Gee, if everybody thought that way, the horseless carriage would never have gotten off the ground.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41079591)

In general, you don't want your horseless carriage to get off the ground unless you're filming another Dukes of Hazzard remake.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 2 years ago | (#41082269)

Whether it will ever happen I wouldn't know.

But it's insane to base our civic planning on an imaginary technology that by all indications is physically impossible.

If we ever have FTL, hey, go hog-wild and conquer the universe, and when we fill that, conquer another dimension.

But until then, it's a lousy plan. We're building an epic disaster, bringing children to life and putting a gun to their heads.

It's really quite a horrible thing to do. Evil.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 2 years ago | (#41082903)

How about simulating a new world. That technology is "theoretically possible". And if you can't tell the difference, there isn't one. Morpheus, and his "must live in reality" buddies can janitor the machines for us. Problem solved.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

DamnStupidElf (649844) | more than 2 years ago | (#41084941)

Problem solved.

By solved you mean we've found a way to generate unlimited amounts of energy and dissipate unlimited amounts of waste heat?

Or maybe you've worked out 100%-efficient reversible computing? Even that won't fix our desire for ever more bits over time.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#41088013)

Or maybe you've worked out 100%-efficient reversible computing?

Well, the tablet and cloud generation seem heck-bent on destroying the last 30 years of knowledge gained from network disaster preparedness and user interface design and dropping us right back to 1982, so I'd say we've pretty much got this "reversible computing" thing nailed...

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | more than 2 years ago | (#41084115)

No, what we are doing is very natural. All life forms maximize their populations to the verge of starvation, in the absence of predators, of course. We aren't even near that level yet, though our mismanagement of resources might indicate otherwise. See, that's our real problem, not the quantity of resources, but the politics that corrupt the distribution systems.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 2 years ago | (#41086317)

That's great news. Politics sounds like a relatively easy problem to solve.

Problem is, people are starving now. Please don't claim "we aren't even near that level yet" until people aren't starving.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | more than 2 years ago | (#41087547)

Ok screw politics, therapy is what people need. What I'm telling you is that the planet can support a lot more people than are here now. That's the level I'm talking about. We are here to reproduce, to infest and dominate the entire universe. And it is mental illness that is slowing us down. A combination of Stockholm and Munchhausen syndromes, with a "minor Oedipal complex". That is what give us the politics we suffer today.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#41087973)

Gee, if everybody thought that way, the horseless carriage would never have gotten off the ground.

My horseless carriage gets off the ground just fine, as long as I have a decent run-up and the cliff is high enough.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41087583)

Manifest Destiny.
Look out, space-Indians.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

bsercombe72 (1822782) | more than 2 years ago | (#41091939)

Cheesybagel- you sir are a moron. You've failed to notice that to get to where we are now we've decimated 70% of fish stocks, 20% of arable land and 30% of potable water. We made our last billion people in 12 years and in the first three decades of this century the global population will increase 50% (source: UN global population forecast). We are now consuming non-renewable resources faster than at any time in history. By then 2050, 40% of us will be elderly. Under those circumstances the global economy will look a lot like Japan has been for the past two decades. Moribund. Some things for you to google are peak water, peak phosphorus and aquifer depletion. While I might sound like it I am not a rabid greenie. We have much to curse Al Gore for. The world is being shown the pretty bunch of flowers (AGW) while the elephant in the room (Global Population) tiptoes behind a curtain. The global economy becomes a pile of steaming turds if it is not growing continuously at roughly 3%. Well mate, let me tell you that 3% interest compounded annually looks pretty bad for us in terms of energy consumption in short order. Even 1.5% (an unprecedented 50% growth reduction) becomes a fearfully large number in 200 years. And last time I checked we can't make socks that last more than a couple years let alone a generation ship or FTL so the real story is: Hope for the best, Plan for the worst.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079435)

My own pessimism comes from watching an unsustainable economy (basically a Ponzi scheme based on perpetual growth) on a collision course with the laws of physics in a finite world.

Please, show us this economy so that we may observe it as well. If you're referring to pensions and other schemes that depend on new blood working to pay directly the old blood, well the simple solution is simply that those pensions and other such things pay less than they used to. If you're referring to economic growth, please be aware that one can grow an economy via innovation and that is a more effective way to grow the pie than via population growth. We also need to keep in mind that the function of an economy is to distribute things of value, not to grow at a particular rate. The developed world economies do a pretty good job of that.

I'm convinced there must come a time when the population stops growing, when the birth rate matches the mortality rate. It might be really messy. And the lack of political will to address the fundamentals makes me pessimistic and cynical.

Already happened in Europe. Not as bad as advertised.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

DamnStupidElf (649844) | more than 2 years ago | (#41085013)

Please, show us this economy so that we may observe it as well.

I think you could just graph the world population composed with per-capita energy consumption over time.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#41086369)

A graph isn't an economy any more than a quip is. Where is this economy of which you speak?

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

tgd (2822) | more than 2 years ago | (#41080197)

Yep. My own pessimism comes from watching an unsustainable economy (basically a Ponzi scheme based on perpetual growth) on a collision course with the laws of physics in a finite world.

Since I don't subscribe to magical thinking, I'm convinced there must come a time when the population stops growing, when the birth rate matches the mortality rate. It might be really messy. And the lack of political will to address the fundamentals makes me pessimistic and cynical.

But the prospect for real change and a sustainable future excites me. I hope SF writers, engineers, and thinking people can come up with a saner, more grounded future.

And this is precisely why some near-future SciFi can be so ... uplifting. The problems you talk about are because the Earth used to be a closed system that was so big that, in an economic sense, it was an open system. In the early 21st century, its not really all that big anymore. Expansion is the solution to keeping that ponzi scheme going. Getting off the Earth, chewing up the solar system and slowly moving beyond.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#41088389)

Expansion is the solution to keeping that ponzi scheme going. Getting off the Earth, chewing up the solar system and slowly moving beyond.

Of course what most expansionist SF doesn't figure is that even devouring an entire galaxy of Earthlike planets (assuming that they exist, and that we had a vaguely hopeful theoretical pathway towards FTL, neither of which are true right now) won't work forever. The numbers are out there somewhere; I think about a century or two before we eat the whole Milky Way at current population/infrastructure buildout rates?

But if we don't get FTL, the picture changes dramatically. At STL generation-ship travel speeds, the Expanding!Space!Future will have to involve small self-sustaining communities of absolutely limited population locked in a sealed box with a finite amount of air, water, biosphere and energy for timescales of centuries to millennia. These ships will be eco-tyrannies that make the Fremen of Dune look like like slack hippies; the punishment for overbreeding will be either the entire ship dying, or getting chucked out the nearest airlock.

After enduring a trip like that, the resulting culture, when they finally get to a destination planet, might well treat it a lot more reverently than we currently do ours. They certainly won't have an economic background of expecting constant exponential growth in resource usage. So that's a potential solution, yes.

Mind you, you could get the same sociological result a bit faster and cheaper by just building sealed glass domes around all our major Earth cities and instantly shooting anyone who tries to smuggle oxygen inside.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (4, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077807)

The whole real-wages-are-down meme always ignores the enormous change over time in standard of living, creature comforts, households full of magic communication devices and the rest. Give up on some of that, rewinding to the nostalgic past to which everyone compares earning power, and watch how much better you can get by on a given wage.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41077885)

Shush you! Just because indoor plumbing is standard and aluminum is no longer the metal of kings doesn't mean people should consider that statistics are often misleading!

The problem is (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41077945)

many already have and are still having a hard time. Take me for example, I can't even afford a slashdot account.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (3, Insightful)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077963)

Those "real wages" are unweighted averages. We professionals are on the top end, among the 20% who have 80% of the wealth. The other 80% are living on much less, and don't enjoy all we do. They may have a tv and a cell phone, may have a car. Probably don't own a house. They probably don't have a PPO, maybe have never met a dental hygienist. One in six kids don't get three meals a day.

These are real facts about life in America today. The standard of living you and I enjoy is the exception, not the rule.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41080031)

"So what are we doing so differently that allows this seemingly-normal lifestyle to occur at such a low cost? Most notable is the virtual absence of a “miscellaneous” category. We have a lot of stuff, but it was bought only once, and most of it long ago."

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/06/01/raising-a-family-on-under-2000-per-year/

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#41081321)

A lot of the high tech goods that have had a huge development are also on the high end of the consumption. A lot of the more basic income items like food, housing, transportation, entertainment haven't really changed all that much. Oh sure a 2012 car is very different from a 1962 car but it's not like you can get an insanely cheap "1962-style-in-2012" car, either you get a modern car or you get no car. Progress hasn't necessarily made it that much easier to live cheaply.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 2 years ago | (#41083019)

Cars since the 70-80s are heavier and less fuel efficient because of increased safety measures.

Hopefully automation will reduce crashes to such an extent that we can reverse that trend.

http://www.futuristspeaker.com/wp-content/uploads/driverless-car-main1111.jpg/ [futuristspeaker.com]

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 2 years ago | (#41090761)

Reverse what trend? Reverse the trend to lower and lower automotive fatalities?

Bad trend to reverse.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 2 years ago | (#41082961)

Really? You have a computer. Other than that life is pretty much the same as it was 100 years ago. Oh and you have a car instead of a horse.

When the industrial revolution made manufacturing an order of magnitude easier people should have taken a break to instill equality, philosophy and education using all the free time.

Instead we allowed those technologies to make the richest people even richer. People work more now than they ever did before. So many people write reports and do silly paperwork that no one ever reads or cares about. That number will continue to increase.

Resources for changing the world are more expensive and harder to obtain than ever. Distributors won't give individuals enterprise class hardware to experiment with, and when they will it's usually so expensive that only universities can afford it. My YMCA doesn't have an electron microscope, a molecular sieve or any of a hundred other technologies that would let individuals be inventors.

Also things like printing have become MORE expensive. Publishing a magazine is more expensive. Building a radio or TV station is MORE expensive, more time consuming and more political than ever before.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 2 years ago | (#41088257)

Really? You have a computer. Other than that life is pretty much the same as it was 100 years ago. Oh and you have a car instead of a horse.

What's it like to be so utterly clueless? Oh, I get it. You're not. You're just trolling while trying to sound pious.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 2 years ago | (#41090777)

You're using an electronic device that can connect you, basically for free, to global audiences for free?

And you think there's no progress in the last 100 years?

You have a very strange brain.

Re:Declining Real Wage? (1)

neyla (2455118) | more than 2 years ago | (#41092545)

It certainly is. I live in Norway, where income has grown steadily over the last 30 years (yes, that includes over the last 5 years), and there's no, or very little, such pessimism here. (you can find data here: http://www.ssb.no/english/subjects/05/01/10/inntekt_en/ [www.ssb.no] )

If that makes people less risk-averse is hard to say. There's some risks it's easier to take - a work-market with an overabundance of good-paying jobs means you can quit to try it out on your own, knowing that if it doesn't work out, you'll very likely very easily be able to find a job, helps. Having a partner who earns well enough that the entire family could survive decently on his (or her) income, also helps.

Japanese cell phone novelists (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#41077669)

They've been doing this for quite some time. Although, from what I understand their updates are brief, sometimes only a few hundred words, as they are delivered via a sort of extended text message. I think an app is a much better way to deliver it. Pay 99 cents for the app, get a chapter a month until the story is done, and then pay $7.99 for a complete version off Amazon or *gasp* from the bookstore.

He dat gy who walked on da moon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41077921)

Kewl bro!

Trying to change the world through SF (3, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#41078123)

Many of the early SF writers and editors were trying to change the world, and said so. Asimov. Heinlein, Clarke, Gernsback, and Campbell were all trying to help invent a better future.

Stephenson mostly cranks out dystopias.

Re:Trying to change the world through SF (4, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#41078759)

Changing the world through SF needs two approaches together: The promise of what we can make the future into, and the threat of what it will be if we don't.

Re:Trying to change the world through SF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41082231)

A 1,000 page novel written by hand every couple of years is an interesting definition of "cranks out".

Re:Trying to change the world through SF (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 2 years ago | (#41082799)

The Diamond Age seemed pretty swell. The Feed, socialized food, housing, entertainment, etc. Multiculturalism and libertarian communities, a stable level of weaponry producing a modicum of peace. Technologies being designed for education, etc.

Then again: "Don't be an asshole. This is China."

Proprietary & surveilled reading (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41078327)

Neal certianly has a ironic sense of humor endorsing this scheme.
Books that watch us read them will not lead to anything of value

Cory Doctorow has a much better understanding of SF in this regard as his stuff is literally from the future since it has 0-DRM and doesn't exist in ecosystems which deprive users/readers of their privacy & anonymity.

Eugenics, Communism, Nuclear Weapons, Total War (1)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079217)

I'm not a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination. But the shear amount of mass murder conducted in the name of "science" and "progress" in the 20th century was mind boggling.

He is not that young (3, Insightful)

paiute (550198) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079393)

"...we've fallen into a habitual state of being depressed and pessimistic about the future...."

Don't you fellows remember the 1950s? The science fiction from that era was extremely pessimistic.

Re:He is not that young (1)

damien_kane (519267) | more than 2 years ago | (#41081761)

Don't you fellows remember the 1950s? The science fiction from that era was extremely pessimistic.

Looking back on some of the decades following the 50s, apparently, with good reason.

Re:He is not that young (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41236083)

Actually as a big fan of the golden age of sci-fi I find many stories were about humanity overcoming adversity rather than falling to it (a la 1970s tales of dystopia).

Pessimist? Me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41079399)

I watched the future die with Kennedy, and that ugly old man Johnson started stealing our future to fund his war.

Saving the World in Games. (3, Interesting)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079769)

You! Yes YOU! I want you to save the world. No, seriously. Darkness has befallen your brethren, and all of the lands are at war. You're the only one that can change the world for the better. You'll play this amazing game or read an awesome story, the protagonist will accomplish amazing feats and your reward will be: A CREDITS ROLL! HELL YEAH! How many times have you defeated the most bastardly bastard, and that's it?! No more story? You don't get to reap any real reward after all that hard work mashing buttons, or turning hundreds of pages. Yet, that's the norm. It's what's economically advantageous.

True, the cost of high quality game assets is so much more expensive today, but I'm a game developer and story architect, not an accountant at all! In my stories I don't hang the carrot of climax over your head, promising you a brave new world you'll never live to see. Instead, you vanquish the great enemy, and keep right on playing exploring and interacting with the new world that you've actually just changed. Oh sure, it does get boring once everything is all sunshine and dandelions; In a single player game you might actually just throw in the towel then, and that's a fine conclusion.... However, with a multiplayer game there's always someone else stirring up the pot, awakening ancient evils and generally being a thorn in your side or an ever adventuring partner.

I come from a time before graphics, where asset creation was as easy as spilling words onto the screen, where we could actually live out the world of Peter Molyneux's dreams! I played and created highly immersive and open ended of games during the BBS era. My games were so vast and the world lore so rich that players were always trading details of the new areas quests they had discovered where none had ever ventured before. Unlike today's RPGs where you're spoon fed quests and skill trees, when you kill my Dragon it stays dead.... until some Necromechanic player discovers the secret to revive it.

The trick is to Love your game world -- No, really LOVE it, with both hands. Get down into every crevice and detail the scent of the dead Cyber Knight's Skull's Eye Socket, just in case some fool decides to "sniff" at it. To do that you've got to realise something that's lost to today's game designers and story tellers: Pride is the Enemy. You have to NOT say, "Look at all the beautiful and clever crap I made!", and shove every bit of delicious content down each and every player's throat to be sure they don't miss any awesomely detailed texture or architecture. No, instead you have to truly craft the world as best you can knowing full well that much of what is made will never be seen by anyone! That's what gives a true sense of depth and vastness to a world, that's what makes players/readers keep coming back for more. You have to set the stage, fill it with a rich and interesting past and tangled web of subplots galore waiting to unfold, then set aside your desire to tell some amazing single narrative arc and instead turn the players loose to explore and forge a unique story of their own making.

IMO, Neal Stephenson hasn't got what it takes, yet. He's never been there. He doesn't know how shitty his "app" book is in comparison to a living, breathing story that's never the same twice. He's never crafted a dynamic world out of text where NPCs and Players alike roam freely seeking adventure. He's never seen the logs full of players trading gossip, giddy with wonder while others retell epic adventures that no one could have ever pre-imagined in a billion years. I have. The MUD makers of old have. Neil may tell a single story with his great work, but to me that's nothing compared to telling thousands of tales with a single massive work. THIS [ifarchive.org] is where I'd like to see some ebooks go -- Not all ebooks, mind you, but at least a few?! Maybe even a MUD? You could do it without the real time component, even. Now the time is ripe again, it's foolish to be making such paltry progress...

Stephenson gives the impression that he's breaking new ground -- "I have been interested for awhile in trying to figure out how new tech is going to change the way we tell stories." New Tech?! I'd be happy if you just embraced the THIRTY YEAR OLD tech!

Re:Saving the World in Games. (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#41088967)

Get down into every crevice and detail the scent of the dead Cyber Knight's Skull's Eye Socket, just in case some fool decides to "sniff" at it.

Orson Scott Card, is that you? (spoilers) [sparknotes.com]

Re:Saving the World in Games. (1)

loneDreamer (1502073) | more than 2 years ago | (#41127419)

Just one counter example that come to mind is the "earth" app in Snow Crash, which in my opinion perfectly anticipated everything google earth (and maps) are trying to accomplish.

Might have something to do with it... (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 2 years ago | (#41079773)

"...It contrasts pretty vividly with the way we worked in the first half of the 20th century...."

Well, yeah - the outlook on where technology would take us - rarely even considered before the 20th century (or the latter decades of the 19th) has always had its dystopians, but indeed was largely optimistic.

When your life was nasty and brutish and little different than that of your ancestors 300 years before, technology solved a TON of your basic discomforts - health, food, housing, communication, travel, etc - all were very low-hanging fruit and relatively small tech solutions made great improvements in quality of life.

However, the global catastrophe of the World Wars (100 million dead), the resulting Cold War and danger of global annihilation for nearly 50 years, as well as ever-higher expectations of what life "should be like"* climbing faster than technology could provide, means that the latter half of the 20th century was largely overshadowed by the dangers presented by that same technology.

*reading primary sources in medieval literature suggests that sleeping in an insect-free bed, having your teeth for most of your life, not being starving, and at least half your children surviving to adulthood were all pretty critical to "being happy"...even for the "1%". Compare this to 21st century American "poor" who battle obesity, most have air-conditioning, cable tv, and at least one car.

Responsibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41080545)

Telling people we are 'extremely conservative with our resources' with nothing to site seems like a newbie mistake.
If you find yourself spending vast sums of resources, you better be ready to bear the responsibility of those actions.

It's easy to write books...apps too. It's not easy to go in front of the world and put your billions where your mouth is.
I do believe we have the resources available because of conservative notions regarding those resources.

WTF is this "app" he's talking about? (1)

Nyder (754090) | more than 2 years ago | (#41081435)

Okay, read the article, doesn't actually say what he means by "app". Seems to me he is throwing a buzz word there.

A book is a book. Unless it's get made into a movie, then it's a script.

An app is a program. A book isn't a program, but an ebook needs a program. So, is this app the book with it's own reader? How fucking novel. (notice the play on the word novel).

Look, I'm a fan, but seriously, "app"? Fuck off.

He worked for a patent troll... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41084691)

The man worked for a patent troll (Intellectual Ventures). Does he really have the credibility to talk about "saving the world"?

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