Social awkwardness of the singularity, and are hipsters post-scarcity?

In a list of reasons to live as long as possible, one given is that “your loved ones and children don’t deserve to see you perish.” Ok, yeah, so that’s one possible reason for us to live as long as possible. Presumably with some sort of ideal body age. But, if we start living like that, and if we continue to have children and relationships, and the post-scarcity society means that we are able to focus on creativity rather than drudgery… well, I can see the sort of society this would lead to. There might be mindless, soulless hedonism, but it might also give us the chance to learn from each other for longer (hopefully, assuming that small-minds and obtuseness are also made obsolete – good luck with that).

Ok, but assume it takes whatever form, be it creative super-society or extended adolescence, what then? I can’t help that there would be a lot of parties, a lot of drinking, a lot of meeting new people, a lot of gigs, a lot of gallery openings, a lot of town-hall meetings… does this remind you of anything yet? I can’t help but think that the life of a post-scarcity singularitarian is indistinguishable from a certain subset of our creative classes, be they actual hipsters* or aspiring (the link above also notes the hipster as a privileged category, just as the singularity is). The life is one where money doesn’t matter, but cachet does (a version of Doctorow’s whuffie, your actual monetary needs are catered for by either a trust-fund, the dole, or your part-time job in that bar where you work and sometimes dj).

I don’t say any of the above to be judgemental, and actually I think it’s a little amazing. But, there is the fact that we can think about the constitution of this post-scarcity society and body politic with reference to some of the characteristics of this lifestyle. Now, the preeminent hipster trope of “I was/had/did X before it was trending” thankfully becomes somewhat redundant, since the cachet of time is reduced. [As an aside, I think it would be interesting to apply a comparison of Simmel and Heidegger with regard to this.] We have all the time in the world, with time as an absolute weakened, so we’re all in the same boat of being up against what we have done before. This would, at the very least, add an interesting spin to the “you don’t know man, you weren’t there” conversation. What I want to consider is different to all this. It is about how we might personally relate to one another.

Consider the reason which I quoted, namely that our loved ones don’t deserve to see us perish (never mind the strangeness of ‘deserve’ in this context given that they might hate our guts and want us gone. I don’t think post-scarcity will automatically imply post-douchebag). Then think about the conditions I set out of our body age being set, and having time for creativity rather than drudgery, and finally the fact that we may desire to continue procreating as a species much as we had before (presumably limits would be imposed somewhere, but that’s another discussion). Then consider our existences as more socially than work oriented. I have one abiding scenario in my head with all of this, which is being at a party or other social gathering. You are dressed in whatever is the style you have chosen, and you bump into your daughter. You are 380 years old, you had them when you were 30, and they in term had their children when they were 30, etc etc. This daughter of yours with a group of people you recognise; of course, her children, and her grand children, and…. some other people.

Now, presumably social mores will have changed somewhat. We may not live in the same nuclear family digs as we in the west have done for the past century. Things will probably be more fluid. So you could be faced with the situation where this group of other people are your descendants. They are your great-to-the-power-of-N grandchildren, and you are a living fossil. This is the social awkwardness I find amusing. What could you possibly say? “Study hard, get a good job”? Then there are the other, potential romantic entaglements which would bring accidental incest to a whole new level of creepy. Perhaps we will have H.U.D. contact lenses to tell us a person’s entire history (I have friends who desperately want these now, and who attempt to file away people they meet in the format they believe the filing system might take: “Nasa, philosopher, gay”), which would negate such sit-com scenarios. Technology used to fix technology, ad infinitum.

Surely, however, this shows yet another blind spot in our conversation about the future. All material and information technologies are, whether they allow for it or resist it, at the same time social technologies. Conversely, in my somewhat rhetorical gauntlet of hipster-qua-singularitarian, we might reverse the relationship to say that such ways of living (though you may regard them as irritatingly smug and too heavy on the Pabst) similarly make available a social space that encourages us to step outside how we usually use and think about technologies. You take photographs on your iPhone in a Polaroid style because you think they look more authentic? Do it! If it gets you off, and you can get away with it, fine. Irony and hypocrisy are simultaneously the preconditions for and the enemies of a hipster mindset, and they are interesting because questions of irony and authenticity always arise when you are pushing through to another level of exchanging information and ideas (as I have noted previously). The Hipster as ‘a space of possible being’ so much more than any individual hipsters!

* I am aware that for some the hipster is ‘over’, whereas others see them everywhere. Others consider it an exclusively NY/Shoreditch phenomenon, and that somehow the existence of hipsters elsewhere is rendered moot. All that said, I am with Potter Stewart when I say we all know it when we see it. 

3 thoughts on “Social awkwardness of the singularity, and are hipsters post-scarcity?

  1. I think the hipsters who are left can reinvent themselves by embracing the singularity and running with it until hologram projecting shutter shades and cybernetic devices are commonplace and not counterculture anymore. They always come back and we’ll have to wait and see whether the movement wants to define itself as techooptimistic or pessimistic.

  2. Thanks for an interesting article; I think the social side of technological change and development over time is the strongest reason I have for disregarding utopian singularity predictions, as I have written about in my own singularity article. The picture you paint of some of the potential social issues, the simple, everyday matters which might concern us if this situation came to pass, is an interesting one, but I feel, as I suspect you do, that most would not choose a life like this, and it would not simply be inevitable. Firstly I wonder if we would still feel the need to procreate as we do now? As you suggest, there may need to be some official limits placed on this, and maybe many people simply wouldn’t bother. Unless maybe they were bored. Secondly, I wonder whether a will to creativity would still manifest itself at all? I wonder if most people would not simply adopt the attitude ‘I’ll be creative tomorrow; today there’s a party!’ But if you were going to live forever, would tomorrow ever come? I think an immortal society would be a nightmare.

  3. When you wonder whether we would still be creative, I think of Bart annoying his Sunday school teacher by asking the (valid!) question that wouldn’t eternal bliss get boring after a while? The partying thing participates in that for me. You can only go and get joyously wrecked so many times, before it gets dull (I discount the whole alcoholism and hangover issues, because I assume that our techno-prowess would have addressed these). So, boredom is an issue, because might we simply eventually exhaust all our possibilities (not possibility itself, but that which is conditioned by our thought patterns and predispositions).
    I quite like how Iain M. Banks deals with this, since we are given both parts of the singularity in his Culture series. The “minds” are the ultimate manifestation of techno-prowess (I have no idea since when I made this a thing, but I’ll run with it) as AI, but biological entities with all their mortality still exist. Unless they back themselves up, but that’s another issue.
    I agree though, I can’t see how an immortality could work with society as a collection of individuals as we are now, unless we start to take our collective identity seriously, and consider if we can develop an evolution of society as a collective rather than evolution of the species as an aggregate.

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