Paleo-Future or the Futures of the Past

Microsoft Office Labs has produced a montage video about what information technology will be like in 2019. In my opinion it's a neat and inspiring video but like any vision of the future, it has little to do with what the world will actually be like. The future just sort of shies away from most predictions, and the visions end up telling more about the contemporary world than the future.

Reading the the comments discussing the MOL video at iStartedsomething I myself started to rekindle my long lost idea of doing research on the past futures. Or the futures of the past. Then I came across Tim R. Mortiss' blog with some links to websites and blogs discussing the theme.

Paleo-Future is a blog that takes "a look into the future that never was". Paleo-future as a concept means a historical look at the visions of the future. The blog has plenty of interesting material on its subject. Here's a few pictures (click for hyperlink to original post) of how the future was imagined in the past.

"Going to the Opera in the Year 2000" (1882) - Of course on the all too non-existent flying cars!

"Everyman's Folding Auto" (1939) - Not yet, but we do have the folding bike though.

"Game Parlor in the Future" (1982) - Pretty perceptive story actually!

"Tomorrow's Kitchen" (1943) - No pots and pans anymore!

"The Future of the Helicopter" (1955) - Handy, eh?

Other interesting posts in the blog include: Postcards Show the Year 2000 (circa 1900), Collier's Illustrated Future of 2001 (1901) and Movies to be Produced in Every Home (1925). Check them out!

You can also browse through Daily Motion for paleofuturistic video clips. See, for example, The Electronic home (late 1980s) commercial with "computer-television" controlled with a joystick and "computerized yellow pages". The video is produced by a telephone company and they predict that information services through the "computer-television" will be as natural as driving a car in the future. Not bad, eh?

Or check out Magic Highway, a clip where an American vision of traveling by motorcar is presented in 1958. In The Future is Now (1955) electronic photography, video telephone and electronic music synthesizer are visioned.

And where's my jetpack already?! See the Jetpack Dreams trailer of a book by Mac Montandon (see also the Pale-Future post about it).

"How would you feel if those futurescapes of fifty years ago materialized today?" asks William Gibson. Read his essay at

Pic sources as sited by Paleo-Future blog: Lithograph by Albert Robida in La vie électrique; The November 26, 1939 issue of San Antonio Light; a 1982 issue of Electronic Games magazine; the April 30, 1955 issue of Pacific Stars and Stripes (Tokyo, Japan). More about Microsoft Office Lab's future visions here.


Random notes from Salzburg

The Digital Memories conference (Salzburg) is over. Here are some of my scattered notes about new and old ideas discussed during or evoked by all the interesting presentations.

Anna Reading talked about the global unconscious and globalized memories. During her presentation someone mentioned that it's funny how before people were afraid of forgetting important things but nowadays people worry about some entity remembering everything they do.

There was also discussion about how to define connectivity? We are being told we live in a connected world. But exactly how much mobile phone or internet use does it require? How many hours or how many connections? Or how much speed? For being connected, is it enough to use the cell phone every now and then for a phone call and an sms or is heavy-user multimedia attitude needed? Does one have to practically live online in order to earn the right to be called "connected"?

One of the concepts that stuck to my mind was relocalized memory. It means the situations where a population of a nation/group migrates away from "home land" and redefines or recircumscribes the collective identity which is then imported back to the "home land" to reconstruct and reinforce the imagined community. This, at least, is my interpretation of the concept. This has happened in the case of N. Ireland: the Irish migrated to USA, re-interpreted Irishness and produced an image which was then taken as a model by the people N. Ireland.

In my view, something like relocalization has happened to phenomena like Hinduism in the 19th century (exported to the West & imported back to India), Zen Buddhism in the 1960s (Japan --> US --> Japan) and many other globalized cultural elements that, in the source location, have been redefined according to a more hegemonic model.

After Anna's presentation there was also discussion about premediation (cf. Foucault's discursive archive) which was a new one for me, meaning media producing contents that will give us guidelines on how to react to a future event.

Andrew Hoskins mentioned T. H. Eriksen's idea of vertical stacking of information which happens, according to Eriksen, when

"growing amounts of information are distributed at growing speed" and "it becomes increasingly difficult to create narratives, orders, development sequences. The fragments threaten to become hegemonic. This has consequences for the ways we relate both to knowledge, work and lifestyle in a wide sense. Cause and effect, internal organic growth, maturity and experience are under heavy pressure in this situation." (p. 45 of Eriksen's Globalization: The Key Concepts.)
Alberto Sá from Minho University, Portugal, mentioned a concept I found very interesting. Alberto used the concept of semantic resolution and I immediately thought it could be heuristically used in, say, cultural anthropology describing the different levels of understanding of foreign people. Imagine, for example, a Finn trying to make sense of the Russian culture. If the Finn has low semantic resolution he sees Russians as all-the-same monolithic entity without any heterogeneity. But when the semantic resolution grows you are able to see more "cultural pixels" and thus detect nuances in the object of your gaze.

Owen Kelly's side note was also interesting: when people complain about new technologies weakening the mental capacities of humans, it's good to remember Socrates and how he talked about the alphabet causing forgetfulness and ignorance in people. In addition to this, Owen wondered about how to define memory and what exactly is the unit of memory. What ever it is, memory is something that happens in the present, not in the past. Remembering is like making path from the present to the imagined past. It's not about bringing some past issue alive but more like recreating past in the present.

Olivier Nyirubugara's presentation on hyperlinking made me realize how political hyperlinking actually is. Think about it - it's actually quite a powerful micro-political tool. If you have a popular website or you are a specialist of a field with a blog, by producing or not producing links you are communicating values and appreciations.

Finally,Jeff Rothenberg was quoted:

Digital information lasts forever or five years
- which ever comes first.

Pic sources: top pic from New Media, pic below from The Boston Channel.


Going for Digital Memories

I will spend next week in Salzburg and attend Digital Memories conference. My paper titled "Dokdo Island Dispute: Korean Reconstruction of History and National Identity in User-Created Content Media" will introduce Korean cybernationalism, or, the way new user-created media such as YouTube are used for nationalist purposes. I will present my paper at Session 7: National Identity and Memory in the Digital Age on Thursday, March 19, 2009.

There are plenty of interesting conference papers available here. A few of them caught my eye:

Other papers include titles such as "The Global Unconscious and Globalised Memories in the Digital Age", "Can New Technologies Shape Metamemory?", "Memi, Building an Extension of Memory", "Rewriting Literary Past in Digital Age", "Digital Memories of High-Tech Tourists and Travelling Media". Check them out here.


Copy Right or Wrong - The Pirate Bay Case and Mind Games

The Pirate Bay is a Swedish website that tracks BitTorrents. It has to do with sharing files.

A traditional model of file sharing has Mr. X downloading a file from a server. If many people are after the same file, the server must have a bigger capacity.

A BitTorrent is a protocol that makes sharing files faster and lighter, and it works like this:

Mr. X wants a file likeavirgin.mp3. He goes to a website that tracks BitTorrents. He enters "Like a Virgin" in the search box and gets a list of the available torrents. He clicks one of them and starts to download likeavirgin.mp3 simultaneously from numerous individual sources. While downloading the file he automatically starts to share it with other users too.
In The Pirate Bay everyone can upload and download torrent files. In other words, Mr. X can inform the website about a link that leads to his file likeavirgin.mp3. Other people may inform the website about the same file too. Hence, one link (torrent) in The Pirate Bay may lead to many similar files. In a way The Pirate Bay is a directory of links to individual files. The website per se does not produce any files other than the torrents. No copyrighted material exists in the website's server.

Media companies such as Sony and Warner Bros. have sued The Pirate Bay for copyright theft. Or, to be more exact (as the BBC reports) the owners of the website are accused of "promoting other people's infringements of copyright laws" and the movie, music and video games industry are seeking for compensation (10.6 million euros) "in damages and interest for losses incurred from tens of millions of illegal downloads facilitated by the site." The Bay people, on the other hand, say it's like being sued for making cars that can go faster than the speed limit.

The court case seems to be about two ethical issues. The more obvious is about copyright and the other is about responsibility. It seems like both parties agree on the definition of copyright being "a form of intellectual property which gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights for a certain time period in relation to that work, including its publication, distribution and adaptation." No one thinks Mr. X is allowed to upload or download likeavirgin.mp3.

The big question is whether The Pirate Bay is responsible for publishing a directory of links of which some lead to likeavirgin.mp3 in Mr. X's, Y's and Z's personal computers and, thus, to copyrighted material.

Hard to decide?
Let's try mind games.

Imagine a library with some of its clientele photo-copying some books and thus infringing copyright. Then imagine a book publisher suing the library for aiding violation of copyright. Who do you think would win the case? Would you rather recommend the publisher to sue the copyists instead of the library?

If you would still prefer suing the library, let's go further in the mind game.

Imagine a building just like a library but with the exception of there being no books in the building. Imagine Mr. X. going into the building and asking the librarian if he knew where to find Jonathan Zitrain's The Future of the Internet - And How to Stop It. The librarian would take a look at a list and give Mr. X. the address of Mr. Y. who has the book. Then Mr. X. would go to Mr. Y. and photocopy the book - and infringe copyright.

Would you still charge the library?
You would?
OK then.

Imagine the same library without the books and without the librarian. The only thing that the library would contain would be a notice board where people could post their addresses and the titles of text they possess, whether they be self-written poems, theses, shopping-lists, jokes or copyrighted books. Then imagine Mr. X. going to the notice board and finding the address of Mr. Y. with Zitrain's book.

You could still think the library is the one to blame. And that would be perfectly sound. Perhaps a lot of your judgement would depend on the answers to these questions:

  • How many of the texts listed in the notice board are copyrighted?
  • Is the library aware of the potential copyright infringement enabled by their notice board?
  • Is the library making money out of it?
  • Is the sole purpose of the library to aid copyright infringement?

Or you could as easily make up different kind of questions leading to the opposite moral judgment. You could ask...

  • Is the library itself making copies of copyrighted material?

...and answer no, it is not - and call the case closed.

Eventually copyright is a cultural phenomenon par excellence. It has always been an intriguing ethical issue and the digital age makes it even more so. It seems like the rapid progress of digital technologies makes it very hard for strict copyright to exist. Especially if the counter-sharing technologies and the law-making processes are not able to keep up with the development.

Imagine the year 2050. Will we laugh at the ancient practice of having to pay for likeavirgin.mp3 as all possible public digital data is accessible free by anyone or will the digital pirates be the last outlaws of the world hunted down by the all-seeing media industry/police force complex?

Pic sources: The two modes of file transfer from Bruce’s Journal, the pirate bay symbol from P2P ON!, the library from Southeastern Illinois College, "Captain Copyright" from, Communication from Equalitec.