Saturday, March 11, 2017

The First Step's a Doozy

It is ironic that 1974, the year that John Michael Greer ascribes to the commencement of our catabolic collapse, corresponds to the emergence of tech entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who brought IT into homes, cubicles, and pockets all over the globe. Collapse was taking place in the rust belt industries as silicon became the raw material of choice. The industrial sector giving way to the information sector is not unlike farmers abandoning the plow and moving to the city. It doesn't necessarily indicate impending collapse. Instead, it marks a point when the underlying economic elements of one era have matured to the point where more of the same isn't essential to sustaining society.

Nonetheless, if our industries continue to undergo neglect and decay, the scene could begin to look like a William Gibson novel with all manner of esoteric virtual reality gadgets strewn among the detritus of the Industrial Age.  The SXSW festival itself is something of a virtual reality experience (a vicarious one, at that, for most), this year carting out systems that give kids VR parents, adventurers the bodily experience of flying, and aging queens a magic mirror. As the collapse rumbles along, these small reminders of our former heights of progress will fall out of closets and show up piecemeal in second-hand stores. Their development and entry in the marketplace only serves as a distraction from the reality of rot in the underlying industrial base.
By Bummy Doublez
If catabolic collapse retraces our progress in stages until we become herders and cultivators, the next redux for the U.S. should be industrialism, while we abandon the tech fantasies that have raptured us these past few decades. Perhaps this had something to do with JMG's decision to end his weekly posts on The Archdruid Report. That will probably be the case with this blog in the near future, but I would prefer to have an IT exit strategy that would prioritize and sequence my divorce from electronica.

With Trump getting us back to basics like steel made in America, more coal, and a trillion dollars spent on infrastructure, heavy industry could be somewhat strengthened. Yet, collapse will proceed inexorably, driven by factors modeled in the Limits to Growth study. Though the collapse is worldwide, since ours is such a large portion of the global economic pie, America will have to reverse course on buying extravagantly expensive electronic weapons systems and building the Internet of Things.

The collapse of information networks could come from EMP weapons or from financial disaster. It hardly matters in terms of the end result. In the coming decade, we should expect to lose a century or more of pervasive technological capability following civilization's first major landslide. To many, it will seem like the end of the world.

In the meantime, the choice of whether we as a people cling to the sophistication of IT while allowing other industries to crumble, is subject to the dictates of Maslow's hierarchy. Maslow's pyramidal hierarchy of needs applies to the relative wealth of society's members. Consumer electronics and ubiquitous cyber communication fit mostly into the top three categories of belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. As the ranks of the middle class thins out, the aspects of electronic communication relevant to belonging and relationships will lose customers. After we collapse into industrialism, demand for high tech toys like 3-D VR bedtime story machines could continue among the elites, while the hoi polloi settle for old fashioned family time. Until then, a growing percentage of people with limited means will come to recognize that face-to-face communications with loved ones is more economical and satisfying than communicating for a fee with virtual friends and strangers.

Greer noted back in 2009 that the Information Age was on borrowed time, mainly because it would not be economically feasible in a time of diminishing resources. With the recent wikileak about the CIA's cyber snooping tools, security looks like another limiting factor. As Admiral Mike Rogers said back in 2014, we have reached a tipping point for cyber security. Electronic information of any kind is becoming less and less secure. This begins to intrude on an even more basic need in Maslow's hierarchy - security. Avoidance may be the best strategy until life becomes a degree simpler for everyone.

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