14 May 2014

#VIEWPOINT: 'Finding the crossroads of #politics and #technology': @HJBentham

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Rather than location, education or privilege, having something to offer seems to now be the only determining factor for a writer or activist to be published and gain a voice internationally.

As a student, I initially chose postgraduate study as a route to publishing nonfiction and becoming a political scientist, but I never accessed the necessary funding to start this. After graduating from Lancaster University in 2012 and not being able to become the academic I wanted to be, I have found that postgraduate study is unnecessary to become a nonfiction author or even a political theorist.

There are many alternative media options, especially thanks to the internet. So, since March 2013, I have had work published in well over 40 different publications and the number is growing.

Rather than being a cheap alternative, publishing in online magazines is actually a more effective way of gaining recognition and a strong publishing history than academic publishing. It also takes less time and effort, and you achieve more rewards along the way. As such, the internet has truly overcome the need for educated elites in the old-fashioned sense, since anyone with sufficient knowledge and background is now positioned to gain recognition and have their say.

For some months now, I have been a member of the Lifeboat Foundation. This US-based scientific think tank includes many eminent futurists, including Google’s Ray Kurzweil, and is a credible and influential source of much revolutionary thinking about science, technology and politics. I got invited to this think tank and I continue to contribute to it, despite that I live in the UK and have never travelled to the United States.

Because I have also been writing science fiction for years, my futurist publishing success has provided a valuable means of exploring and attracting interest to ideas I might use in that fiction. It serves to add to the conversation on science and technology, if sci-fi authors can write works with powerful and relevant themes. The link between science fiction, scientific discovery and engineering is far greater than many predict, making artistic or cultural perspectives valuable for influencing science and ethics.

My interest is drawn mainly to what I call the crossroads of politics and technology. Part of this interest comes down to the fact that alternate media is transforming politics, aided by the internet, and this has been instrumental in my own success. This very same interest has led me to launch ClubOfINFO (clubof.info), a new biweekly webzine I am editing from Wigan. This publication occupies a niche for offbeat politics and science articles, activism-savvy product recommendations and sci-fi eBook downloads. I highly recommend a visit to this publication, and subscription is free (follow on Twitter @ClubOfINFO).

Much like the World Wide Web, I believe we can expect many other highly democratic world-changing technologies, and they are set to fundamentally change society. These have been of greatest interest to me, and I have written on what I consider to be the most socially and politically significant technologies. Contributing to the futurist h+ Magazine and the progressive Institute for Emerging Technologies think tank, I have put forward articles praising the potential social and political revolutions resulting from advances in 3D printing, synthetic biology, nanotechnology and other key developments.

Among the work I have published are some of the best in-depth reviews available for consequential books, such as Julian Assange’s Cypherpunks. In this book, Assange eerily predicts a bleak future of “total surveillance” even speaking prior to the shocking revelations of warrantless email and phone interception from whistle-blower Edward Snowden. However, he also acknowledges the possibility of a more favourable outcome: the emergence of a “rebel elite”, a tech-savvy global society of activists and experts who know how to restrain and counter the might of governments bent on using technology for repression and domestic spying. Assange’s book is exactly the kind of work that stimulates the discussion that should be happening all over the world, addressing how exponentially improving technology and the democratization of that technology can empower common citizens against their governments. It is the essence of the crossroads of politics and technology.

My own view of where to go on the crossroads of politics and technology is not important, but I am dedicated to exploring possibilities. Increasingly, users improvise new uses for technology that were not thought of or conceived by the designers themselves. The more rapidly our technology evolves, as depicted repeatedly in trends celebrated by futurists, the less control monolithic companies and governments have over how it will ultimately be used. Depending on your point of view, this may be either worrying or exhilarating. In the grand scheme of things, it cannot be stopped, and people should instead be thinking about how society can adapt to the inevitable change.

It is possible to build a community of internet-based thinkers and activists who are not intellectual snobs, but who have online publishing and political credentials, are trusted by their readers and taken seriously by their opponents. I encourage writers at every level of society to be bold in tackling political subjects and talking about how new science and technology can alter politics or the whole future of civilization. This is the goal I hope to promote with projects such as ClubOfINFO, and it is fully in line with the activities of tens of influential similar publications like h+ Magazine.

For people who believe they have something decisive to offer to futurist discussions about where technology is carrying society and the state, there is no reason to defer to academics and self-proclaimed experts. Everyone’s interests should be taken into consideration, and all should take part in what should be the most democratic explosion in history.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

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