Is Google bringing back the futuristic Utopia?

One of the things that has always fascinated me about Science Fiction is the way that it reflects the changing times of current culture and the overall ‘mood’ of the world (well, lets be honest, the western world,) as a whole. From the revolutionary sixties and the space race (basically Star Trek) to the birth of the internet and the concept of cyberspace in the eighties and nineties, sci-fi has always been about a generation’s outlook on the world.

Which, of course, suggests that the current outlook on life is pretty bleak. Dystopia rules the Science Fiction world, particularly in the sphere of film and television, which sees nations ruled by violent dictatorships (The Hunger Games, Divergent), worlds destroyed by nuclear war or environmental disasters (Mad Max: Fury Road and San Andreas being only the most recent offerings) – even recent versions of previous uplifting franchises have been steeped in the idea that the future is dangerous and somewhat depressing (see: Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness.)

Of course, this is unsurprising. There are a lot of things wrong with the modern world, including, yes, violent dictatorships, environmental disasters, nuclear threats, economic depression, and these aren’t problems that can be solved with a few glib words from Kirk and Spock. What’s lacking is a sense of optimism about the future, the belief that we can reach for the better world that previous generations thought we could.

(I always come back to this opening scene from Star Ocean: Til The End of Time, as it encompasses the idea of Sci-Fi utopia pretty well and it’s a gorgeous sequence of animation. Note: Not an endorsement of the actual game, which wasn’t all that good)

However, reading this article from Wired on Google’s plans for a futuristic, green city sparked a few thoughts. Google’s plans certainly won’t be a simple or as accepted in the real world as they are on the page, but knowing that their plans have even been put forward is nice. Just as Virgin Galactic and other private enterprises are trying to re-energise space flight, now that governments have abandoned the idea, maybe Google and other big companies, which have a longer outlook than most five-year elected governments, can revolutionise the world on the ground too. Rather than wallowing in how we’re all going to destroy ourselves, the projects look at the world and want to fix things. They want that same brighter future that Gene Roddenberry wanted for us in Star Trek.

Floating green future cities, copyrighted picture from wired.com

I can’t pretend that these companies don’t have their own problems, especially Google in the way it has approached city projects before (creating a technologically elite society in San Francisco that’s verging on future dystopia all by itself) but I do believe it shows a real cultural change.

And maybe we could see some more cheerful Sci-Fi too. Does it all depend on Star Wars now? I have hopes, anyway.

Memes and Appropriation

Memes. They’re sometimes called the language of the internet, pictures, and animated .gifs that we use to express our feelings and emotions in a way that people will understand and empathise with in a very different way to the written word. In some ways this makes them great, they are a way for people without a common language to communicate, and a way for those who may struggle with words to speak to the world. Which is a wonderful thing.

However, most of these photos are totally disconnected from the people in them, especially once the internet gets a hold of them. Today the BBC published an editorial from a man whose wedding photos had become a tumblr meme. It is well worth a read, as he explains his feelings on having such an important moment of his life co-opted for other people’s thoughts, feelings, and even jokes and insults. Once a photo has spread to the point where it has become a meme, it seems that we consider it completely public property. We talk a lot nowadays about how important photos are, especially when we take so many, but we don’t really think how it might feel to have a photo which has certain memories attached to it, callously appropriated in such a way. Even positive versions of the memes must create a massive ‘disconnect’, and negative ones – sadly, there were a lot of rascist ones from in this instance – are incredibly intrusive. This has happened before with famous memes – remember ‘Scumbag Steve’ as the guy in this picture ended up being dubbed?

Memes have been around for years, it’s not something that can be stopped and I’m not sure that I would want to stop. I do believe that they have value and I’ll be honest, I love lolcats too (who doesn’t.) But it’s a trend with a dark side, that needs to be recognised and understood.