Subsistence Farmers With Cellphones

Fifty years ago, we were supposed to have a base on the moon by now, plus flying cars and computers we could talk to. What we got instead were the Internet, women’s rights, and global warming. I think this is why I’m not as excited by nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and the social web as I feel I ought to be—they’re so obvious that they’re almost certainly not what the future is actually going to look like. I’m much more interested in stories like this one about Toronto (possibly) allowing people to keep chickens after a decades-long ban—backyard chickens, in the 21st Century—or this article in New Scientist that includes the sentence, “In remote regions where farmers don’t have access to computers, they can use cellphones to record onto FoodReg’s online database the time and place the crop was harvested.” I think our future—if we have one—will mix high tech and low tech in ways that would have seemed perverse to Asimov, Clarke, and other “hard SF” writers a generation ago. Books like Ian MacDonald’s River of Gods feel like a better guess these days than “Next Stop: Mars!” The questions I’m asking myself are (a) how do we grow to this future, rather than collapse to it, and (b) what can I do to help?