I have tried to have an interesting post based around Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels before. I phrased that sentence in that particular way as I cannot, for the life of me, remember if I actually published the post or not… but regardless, it was almost assuredly not interesting. This one will be more than just me fawning over his awesome sci-fi ideas.
The society in many of Banks’ sci-fi novels is known simply as The Culture. It’s roughly analogous to The Federation in Star Trek , but much more anarchic and hedonistic. Technology has advanced to such a level that nobody needs to go without… anything. There is no hunger or poverty, or even any system of currency; if you want something, it can be yours. As such, humans being what they are (though the Culture encoporates many different species), social hierarchy is determined largely by relationships, by one’s personal and family affiliations; who you know, and who might owe you a favour. As money has been long gone, so too are jobs. Nobody works a 9-5 unless they’re doing something they’re pasisonate about. Gone are the contemporary millions upon millions working some job to keep us all in cold cuts, toilet paper, fancy cell phones and shiny gold spandex leggings.
So, in Banks’ universe, technology has done away with the working class. They’ve been liberated from the grind required to fuel a capitalist economy, free to become rock climbers or ballerinas or meth addicts as they see fit.
This thought collided with one put forth in one of You Look Nice Today‘s rare serious moments. The question was brought up about what would happen in, say, fifty or so years, where just about everything had been put on the Internet. The collected works of humanity; poetry, prose, music, painting, photography, movies; high-brow “art” from the creative class to the entertainment industry’s latest offering to trillions of lines of text in blog after blog to ridiculous attempts at youtube notoriety. Things are already starting to run into each other, culturally. In my recent time spent pursuing a post-secondary fine art education, any number of students seemed content, even enthusiastic to produce work which had already been done, and done to death. Mainstream hip-hop. Hollywood will mine every source of 80’s nostalgia down to its gristly core and then move on; what will happen when they look back 20 years to find the re-release of Star Wars or Transformers? Is humanity running out of ideas? Are there only so many things to write/sing/draw/paint/dance/act about?
I realize we’ve been producing Art for, say, several thousand years now, but the persistent documentation and dissemination of cultural products allowed by the Internet is something new. There is still something to be said for owning a physical object; a sculpture, a piece of clothing, a photograph, or even, sometimes (no, I do not own a Kindle(yet)) a book, that cannot be easily duplicated. But creators and purveyors of time-based or word-based media are definitely in for an interesting ride.
Technology, birthed by culture, turns on its confused parent and devours it. News at (21)11.