I’ve been thinking a lot about the cultural critics relationship to the future – this question has come up in the past – especially when we were dealing with Jameson and his call for a new aesthetic of the present⁄ future … but never has this [theory as projection] paradigm been more conspicuous than in Rheinhold’s work on the implications of smart-mob technologies. He explicitly presents his work as a formative cultural force – as a theorization of the future in an attempt to somehow master that future: ″how we talk about that future holds the power to influence that future,″ (xx). Here, Rheinhold presumptuously charges himself (or at least his work) with the task of determining the form of future human-human and human-machine relationships.
What is productive about this project? what’s at stake in this search for this future? what is it about technological artifacts of the present that specifically lend themselves to this theoretical inquiry into the future? does technology come from the future or lead us towards the future? shouldn’t culture be allowed to do what it will? how does Rheinhold fundamentally differ from Vannever Bush and Licklider, two cultural critics he so reveres? (I would argue there’s a big difference here)
Why do I have such a problem with Rheinholds critical stance anyway?
Even after I have these moments of self-reflexive questioning, the fact still remains that Rheinhold’s voice grates on me as embarrassingly hokey (was anybody else weary of his presumptions toward heroism: ″It had not yet become clear to me that I was… galloping off on a worldwide hunt for the shape of the future″)?
I’d go out on a limb to claim that Rheinhold is working with a false concept of the future (perhaps this is why his attempts at mastering the future seem so strange – he is working with the wrong future here…). The last line of the book belies Rheinhold’s false sense of the futures place: ″especially in this interval before the new media spheres settles into its final shape, what we know and what we do matters, ″ (215). Why does he project an eventual settling of technological configurations into a ″final shape″?
There is no such thing as a final future. I’d say that the future is happening to us, that it is a continued happening. (Why cant Rheinhold limit himself to the productive and provocative work he does when he’s in his ″this is what’s happening now″ mode) Any kind of placement of the future as somehow formally cohesive and final, a thing to be blue-printed and constructed, a monument to be visited, seems so fool-hardy. It also seems totally incongruous to the nature of his general project – he should know by now that there is no such thing as a settled future tense, especially when it comes to the ways in which humans develop technologies to aid in their legislation with a continually present reality.