Vaporised! By Brian Simpson
Tech futurist Robert Tercek is author of Vaporized: Solid Strategies for Success in a Dematerialized World, (LifeTree Media, 2015). He addresses a problem which by now is well known to most of us, namely that there is a process of “vaporisation” occurring where former material industries are becoming dematerialised by digitalisation. A good example of this is given in Tercek’s discussion of what happened to Tower Records.:
Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles was considered to be one of the most famous record shops in the world, and went strong for 36 years. But then the shop, and others in the chain closed in 2006. Other record shops closed soon after, because the physical products that they sold were replaced by MP3 players and the dawn of digital music, of downloadable music and subscription streaming-audio services. An entire industry was “vaporised” or digitalised. This is the thesis of Vaporized:
“My motto is “Whatever can be vaporized will be.” That means any part of your business or product that can be replaced by pure digital information almost certainly will be. No matter how badly you may wish to preserve your legacy business, you can’t stop this transformation process because dozens or even hundreds of other companies are already working on it. And it’s not just your stereo or your CD collection or your local record shop at stake. Your job, your company, even your identity are up for grabs as we make the transition from the real, tangible physical world to the digital domain. That’s why we are seeing so many companies crater and collapse completely, undone by nimbler rivals who use digital media to undermine their old-school counterparts. Just like Tower Records on the Sunset Strip, we’re now seeing entire product categories and sometimes entire businesses vanish overnight, replaced by pure software. The strangest part is that this process is almost entirely imperceptible until it’s complete. One day a store is selling familiar products, and the next day there’s a vacant shop with a For Lease sign in the window. The vaporized phenomenon now extends to every part of the globe as digital media reaches into every industry. Those who feel immune to it may be the most vulnerable to being blindsided.”
Tercek uses the concept of “vaporisation” as a metaphor. It means not only the elimination of “solid” and “liquid’ industrial era products, but also the transformation of things into a more vapour type of state, which represents digital reality. These transformations will produce a “software-defined society.” The chapter outlines give a clear indication of where Tercek thinks this will go:
Chapter 1: Everything that can be information will be.
Chapter 2: Everything that can be digitised will be.
Chapter 3: Everything that can be unbundled will be.
Chapter 4; Everything that can be infrastructure will be.
Chapter 5: Everything that can be commodified will be.
Chapter 6; Everything that can be measured will be.
Chapter 7; Everything that can be connected will be.
Chapter 8: Everything that can be decentralised will be.
Chapter 9: Everything that can be connected will be.
Chapter 10: Everything that can be democratised will be.
Chapter 11: Everything that can be transcended will be.
It is natural enough in these sorts of techno-utopian books to end on the let’s transcend the human note, that is, the transhuman agenda:
“How far can we proceed with the concept of vaporizing physical things? One conclusion is as obvious as it is preposterous: that we will graduate from vaporizing things to vaporizing people. We will turn ourselves into pure information: that’s the ne plus ultra of dematerialization. If we were to liberate the human mind from the human body, we would have no need for physical possessions and their entire attendant infrastructure. Except, of course, the computer networks where the newly digitized You would reside comfortably as long as there is a power supply. Might we eventually transfer our minds to software? Will we exchange our soft biological bodies for hardware?”
The answer is of course; yes, as we become spiritual machines, as put forward by other techno-optimists such as Ray Kurzweil in The Age of Spiritual Machines:
For Tercek, our destiny will be the stars, as we transcend the limitations of biology and become digitalised as well. Unlike other treatments which express caution about this such as:
Tercek is optimist all the way, and in fact quotes Kurzweil with glee. The basic problem with this entire school of thought is that these folk do not get out enough, away from dammed computers. Are they even slightly aware that there is a world out there hurtling towards social destruction, and that one day the mobs will come with machetes and clubs, if not guns, to see if they have any food? The technocrat is a fragile being existing in the soft womb of a comfortable society, feed by electricity. There are numerous ways that the lights could go out and end their fantasies overnight.
A good counter to all of this tech optimism is this talk by Rupert Sheldrake on the science delusion:
This is very fundamental material. Sheldrake challenges the entire materialist basis of modern science. See particularly the good discussion at 13 minutes in, where he talks about changes in fundamental constants such as the speed of light, which was less between 1920-1940, than it is today. He investigated this and found that physicists defined the speed of light as a constant, by in turn defining the length of a standard metre by reference to the speed of light, so that by definition, there could never be a variation in the speed of light! That’s science for you; the very paradigm of circular reasoning! And, it shows why the Tercek utopia will fail, because even though the process of digitalisation and dematerialisation has proceed at a rapid pace, it is fallacious to infer that it will continue like that forever. It assumes that the very process of dematerialisation has no limits, limits produced by feedback mechanisms, working to undermine it.
For example, it is absurd to suppose that the world population of the future, which is projected, optimistically to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100, with half of that population growth in Africa, will be made into transhuman thinking machines! But, the real challenging problems never seem to be considered by the computer tech obsessives. When their doors are knocked down, maybe they will pat attention.
Will psychologists rise to the challenge, and describe a new pathology, an obsessive devotion to technology?