23/10

“Our Friend, The Future”

By Geisha Bar

It makes sense that labelling some event or object as a future shock lies in the basis of our own ignorance and isn’t too far removed from culture shock, or that whole idea that any significantly advanced technology is, for all intents and purposes – when eyed by someone from a vastly different cultural/economic background – the equivalent of magic. I guess you could describe a future shock as a kind of spontaneous epiphany regarding something very interesting or different or just plain old new, that you had no idea actually existed up until the point at which it sort of slaps you in the face, culturally.

If you’re part of the set of human beings that grew up watching the Back to the Future series and The Jetsons (and maybe even Futurama, although it diverges from the previous two examples due to the fact that it seems really, really conscious of the idea of a disappointing future in which everything is essentially the same as it is now, except there’s aliens everywhere who somehow manage to be just as dumb as cynical as we are) it can very satisfying to vent your spleen concerning the disappointing nature of our current future, i.e. “Where are the friggin’ flying cars/hover boards/roast dinner-in-a-pills?”.

The darkly risible thing about this is that complaining about the future has become old. What’s actually kind of interesting and not laughable at all about this is how completely wrong this idea of the future being unsatisfying actually is. Of course, the futuristic advancements that society has managed to achieve have passed under the cultural radar pretty much undetected, but that’s why it’s all the more exciting to suddenly discover this stuff and be like ‘Oh wow that’s pretty cool.’

Anyway, the whole point of this preamble is that there currently exists a website named The Silk Road that essentially serves as the real-life analogue to whatever science-fiction cyber-black market you could care to name (I’m sure you can name at least three, but I won’t press you). I’ll try not to get too boring with the jargon – since the total sum of my knowledge of computer science is roughly equivalent to the total sum of my knowledge of Kenyan agricultural practices circa 1845-1847 (i.e. basically nothing) – but there are large sections of the internet that are inaccessible to 99% of standard users and have to be accessed through specific search engines. This chunk of cyberspace is known as the deep web, and in this place things that are not normal happen: people hire hit-men, trade illicit pornography, and buy things that you can’t get anywhere else. The Silk Road falls into this third category: at the simplest level, it’s basically an eBay-analogue that sells drugs and weapons instead of band memorabilia and toast shaped like Jesus.

Now, you may be thinking “How the heck has The Silk Road not been completely obliterated by any kind of government/fair trading/religious agency with interests in not letting people have heroin delivered to their door?” And the answer is this: it’s really hard to know who is actually doing anything. Due to it being located in a section of the internet that requires – before you are even able to use it in the first place – you to access it through a browser that crunches your details through a whole bunch of internet-cup and ball games that serve to mask your identity, even the location of the server that hosts the website is basically a complete mystery to everyone except for maybe the three (or who even knows?) people who administrate the website. There’s even more sleight-of-hand dickery with the way payments are made and the internet currency used on the website, named BitCoins – further details of which I’ll avoid going into because it gives me an economic headache, but basically once you’ve actually traded real-life cash for them they’re traded around a lot, and this constant changing of hands has made it pretty much impossible for anyone, especially authorities, to even try and follow where the electronic payments are going to or coming from. You would be right if you described this situation as “a bit of a headache” for the CIA, FBI, DEA, et al.

It’s nice to think that we live in an age where you can still get away with wearing socks and sandals or whatever, while at the same time there’s a website out there from which you can buy whatever illicit drug you’d like to stick up your nostril and have it delivered to straight to your door. If that’s not a future shock, I don’t know what is. Maybe a dress made out of squirrel meat?