Wednesday, November 14, 2007

the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living

Predicting the Future by Alan Kay

Great article which examines a variety ways in which the future becomes blocked. Includes elaborations of some quotable quotes from Alan Kay, Marshall McLuhan and others (and some brand new ones from Kay):

"the best way to predict the future is to invent it"
"Point of view is worth 80 IQ points"
"the biggest thing we need to invent is the invention of the future itself"
"the weakest way to solve a problem is just to solve it"
"I don't know who discovered water, but it wasn't a fish."
"Innovation for holders of conventional wisdom is not novelty but annihilation."
"We're driving faster and faster into the future, trying to steer by using only the rear-view mirror."
"The 20th century is the century in which change changed."
"the greatest invention of the 19th century was the invention of invention itself"
Marvin Minsky:
"You don't understand something until you understand it more than one way."

I like this paragraph:
But McLuhan was saying something else, that when change changes, you can't predict the future in the same way anymore; you have some second order or third order effects. So the biggest thing we need to invent in the 1990s is the invention of the future itself. In other words, to think of the concept of future not as a thing that comes from the past--although it has come from the past in a way--but to realize that the forces that are bringing about change right now are so great that it's very difficult to sit down and make simple extrapolations
Our current systems (educational, political) do seem to operate in a zone of total failure of imagination and the ethos of the least worst choice.

But looking backwards it is clear that hardly anyone in the past predicted our current present. Who predicted 9/11, the fall of the Berlin wall, the personal computer, the GUI, the rise of the internet, the advent of free software or one laptop per child ...? A handful of people predicted some of those things before they happened but no one predicted all of them or anything like that. And institutions like School are struggling without much success to adapt to these changes ... introduce this innovation, block this one, put you head in the sand about that one etc.
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living ..."
- The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852

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