“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”~Arthur C. Clarke
We’re living in a cyberpunk world right now — rampant techno-capitalism that elevates the Haves into the stratosphere, and turns the Have-Nots into emotionally numb, commodified units of economic production, desperately scrambling to stay profitable enough to be worth keeping around by the Haves. But it won’t always be this way — the seeds of our fantasy future are already sprouting.
Today, people routinely identify themselves using fantasy-borne labels, with decreasing levels of self-deprecation about it: Hufflepuffs and Slytherin abound on the dating apps, “Chaotic Good”, and “Lawful Evil” designations are being applied in corporate team retreats, Mermaids and Unicorns proclaim their existence at Instagram pool parties and music festivals, and professional cosplay is already a multimillion-dollar industry.
Gender labels are becoming increasingly non-binary and factionalized, but when you scratch below their surface, it’s not their biological traits that tie people to their own personas — a woman is no less a woman after a double mastectomy, or a hysterectomy, just the same as a man is still a man after surviving testicular cancer. They still feel like who they are inside, the body is just a shell containing (constraining?) their essence.
So what anchors these gender terms, if not our physical characteristics? Ask around, and the less materialist among us will say that it’s an “energy” — but even they find themselves at a loss for descriptor words that carry concrete meaning, and tangible, defined boundaries.
Reality is becoming our externalized imagination, and technology is uprezzing it
Someone from the year 1820 dragged forward to 2020 would think that we’re already living in a magical world.
We speak mysterious incantations into thin air — “OK, Google” — and music plays from any one of a million invisible instruments, the lights dim by Alexa’s unseen hand, and the magic, broadband-connected mirror streams visions to us that cater to the fairest tastes of them all — our own.
And yet, to use the word magic without sufficiently ironic air quotes in 2020 is to invite near-instant scorn — unless you’re a billionaire tech executive, hyping and shilling some new convenience widget. Magic has become a marketing term, but it is very real.
“In graphic design, film production, photography — when starting out with a lower resolution file or comp image, when preparing for print or broadcast quality, you need to uprez the file quality”~Urban Dictionary
As technology grants each of us increasing control over our environments both physical and virtual, we are using that growing power to turn ourselves inside-out, and render our imaginations in reality with ever sharper, senses-fooling resolution.
Humans are headed toward a future that looks more like Fantasy, than Sci-Fi
Orcs, Elves, Wizards, and Warriors, Goddesses, Hobbits, Fairies, Dragons, wise kings, and mischievous jokers, these are persistent archetypes throughout the fantasy genre, across all media, from boardgames to blockbusters. When people’s minds aren’t constrained by the limitations of their physical world, these are the recurring personas we choose to inhabit as the idealized avatars of our consciousness.
Take, for instance, Orcs.
Orcs are physically strong, and favor brute-force methods to solve problems — and there are millions of men and women around the world who share this particular worldview. Is it so outlandish to imagine that at least some of these people would willingly undergo gene editing, or some other kind of biohackery, bulking up their physical frames to match their muscular, hands-on philosophy?
Elves are lithe, quick, sharp of sight and mind, communing with the spirit inhabitants of unseen worlds — one foot delicately planted in each realm. Could neural implants and Virtual/Augmented Reality be the technological seeds of such a mystical cousin of Man?
Witches and Wizards — shamans — cast spells via esoteric hand gestures and strange vocal incantations to summon spirits that bend the world around them to their will. Might the voice and gesture recognition tech of today’s smartphones be the seeds of their immense, mysterious power?
We are inventing magic.
The future looks more like Middle Earth, after the collapse of the techno-capitalist dystopian slums of Elysium’s Los Angeles, and Akira’s Neo Tokyo — not thousands of years before them. In the short term, greater and greater technological power will be condensed into the hands of the few, but the dams they use to hold it back will burst, flooding the world with meaning, as imagination fountains unrestrained into our present reality.
Terence McKenna spoke at length of humanity’s impending escape into the imagination, and I think I’m finally starting to understand what he meant. Imagination — all of it, all at once — will be birthed by us, through us, into a unified existence that will fundamentally alter our definitions of reality, possibility and self.
We’re closing in on the nadir of techno-capitalism, and what follows will be a plunge into the most magical fantasies we can possibly imagine. There’s a glorious, unbelievable and eternal Spring waiting for us just on the other side of the coming cyberpunk Winter. We will turn ourselves inside out, discard our monkey bodies, and start inhabiting the archetypes of our most compelling, and fantastic legends.
“Whenever you go out of doors, draw the chin in, carry the crown of the head high. We are gods in the chrysalis.”~Elbert Hubbard, We Are Gods in the Chrysalis
Human beings are the chrysalis of imagination, and art is how it’s trying to escape from the confines of our biological brains. While we daydream of being Gandalf the Grey, we mustn’t forget we’re destined to become Gandalf the White.