Thursday, November 18, 2010

Imagine You're Not Here

I have too much imagination: that's the reason the Director of Continuing Education gave for firing me. That was in 1973. The company was Stone and Webster which engineered nuclear power plants. John Constance hired me to be his assistant director but I'd come to make him antsy. I love his reason the more because by 1973 I was accusing the world, including Stone and Webster and John Dennis Constance of having too little imagination: I'd founded the Free Learning Exchange to offer digital librarianship of community resources as a replacement for coercive kleptocracy and its sleight of hand institutions, its compulsory school system preeminently. But the world was to self-complacent to save itself: an inconvenience to me but fatal to all of us.

But before I met Ivan Illich's concept of cybernetic social networking in 1970 I already had a favorite example of humans' lack of imagination. Hark back a decade or so before that. In the 1950s we worried about the nuclear bombs that we'd made and used coming back in our own face. Somewhere around 1960-something I saw a British documentary which shared the fear and pretended to marshal it. The film asked the audience to imagine a nuclear attack and then showed the film's own story board scenario fleshed by actors. We watched stiff upper lip Brits queuing up for food and water, all very civilized, very British. No, you fools: first you have to imagine that this theater is empty, or burned into nonexistence, we're all dead. Or most of us are dead and those few who are still alive and mobile are not queueing up nicely; they're gouging each others eyes for a sip of water.

The movie should I believe have asked us first of all to imagine that 99.9% of us, the lucky ones, were no longer alive.

No comments: