This is not a painting. It's a photograph...

...taken from the window of a small aircraft flying over Mexico City. It looks like the cover to some 1980s cyberpunk novel, perhaps called "The Remnants of Tomorrow" or "Fire Sale" or something equally bleak. Like this picture.

I am not the first to note that the last thirty years saw more changes to life on earth -- ALL life, not just humans -- than the thirty years before, which saw more than the thirty years before that. When you describe the current state of things, it seems exactly like we are inside that imagined 1980s dystopia.

But before we get to that, first imagine it's 1986. Russia teeters under communism, and after signing vast non-proliferation treaties with the US, Gorbachev launches Glasnost and Perestroika in an effort to hold it all together. Chernobyl blows up, but Mir is launched. China is a near-impenetrable void, occasionally struggling to feed itself. The Japanese economy is rapacious and seems to be eating everything in sight. Reagan is trading guns for hostages while the Challenger explodes. Top Gun tops the theaters, Robert Palmer is Addicted to Love, and Ferris has his Day Off. Apple launches the Macintosh Plus, featuring an 8 MHz processor, 1 MB RAM, and an 800 kB 3.5-inch floppy drive. It sells for $2600, which is the equivalent of about $5,600 in 2016 (as measured by the CPI).

Since there's nothing you want to watch on the three major networks -- Alf isn't on until later -- and your parents haven't yet sprung for cable, you decide to read a book. You open the first chapter of the hot new sci-fi thriller "The Remnants of Tomorrow" and read:

The year is 2016. Communism has fallen. Although democratic in name, Russian is ruled by an autocrat and former head of state security with no less power than a Tsar. China, although still technically communist, is booming under capitalist-like economic laws and now accounts for the bulk of global manufactures. Both states regularly employ teams of elite hackers to exploit cracks in cyberspace for political and economic gain, raiding both government agencies and private corporations alike. Little action is taken in response, however, since those same corporations -- freed by the Supreme Court to pour endless amounts of cash into the political system -- are now every politician's primary ally in any bid for power.

Corporations are now so big and so powerful that, even after repeated scandals that put former powerhouses like Enron and Worldcom out of business and a global collapse second only to the Great Depression, no changes to the global economic system were introduced. In fact, just the opposite. The deregulations of the 80s and 90s that triggered the crises were left on the floor, and no large organization was allowed to fail as a consequence of its actions. Instead, all over the world, democratic governments bought trillions of dollars of toxic private debt, further enriching the hyper-employed elite and transferring their malfeasance to the tax payers.

The President of the United States, an African-American, offers no significant resistance to this scheme, despite being nominally liberal. Instead, he mostly concerns himself with maintaining the country's global military apparatus whose primary weapons are unmanned aerial drones that patrol politically sensitive regions from 50,000 feet, killing several thousand people every year, mostly civilians, in an effort to curb rampant terrorism and secure Western oil interests.

Although hampered in the cyberwar with China, his intelligence services are no joke, however, having disabled Iranian nuclear technology several years earlier by deploying a cybermissile. In fact, his biggest enemy is the American people, who intermittently resist their government's effort to secure complete informational dominance, with a significant blow coming at the hands of low-level whistleblower who exposed the scheme and now resides in exile in Russia.

The Japanese economy has collapsed and the country has largely retreated unto itself, both economically and culturally. Saddled with the highest sovereign debt of any nation, the Japanese are completely dependent on the US military regime for protection against a resurgent China, even as that regime weakens after decades of costly and ineffectual war in the Middle East.

Most people of even modest means, including those in many poor countries, now carry a hand-held device -- each with more computing power than a room-sized machine in 1986 -- that allows them to talk to anyone else on the planet at any time;  to pinpoint, through a global positioning system, their exact location, as well as any one else they have access to, as well as find and book transit between any two points by way of the global information network, which contains the digitized records of most of the sum of human knowledge.

Almost no aspect of human enterprise, from farming to philosophy, remains untouched by advanced machine control. Robots have landed on Mars and explored the furthest reaches of the solar system, sending back stunning images and data. Cybernetic prosthetics are in increasingly common use while driver-less cars are being tested by government regulatory agencies and laws are passed regarding the use of personal robotic drones. There are 3D televisions, photo-realistic gaming consoles, electronic books, and more diversity of music and movies -- especially pornography -- than ever in the history of man.

But the natural world suffers. Although temperatures fluctuate, each year is seemingly hotter than the last, placing strain on already limited resources. Seasonal storms intensify, with one already nearly decimating a major American city. War and environmental destruction create repeated waves of refugee crises, from Haiti to Syria, with rich governments routinely closing their doors and pushing the problem onto those nations least able to handle the problem, thereby perpetuating further environmental and geopolitical strain.

Several new diseases have appeared, from Ebola to avian flu to the Zika virus, although swift action by an international cabal of health organizations, often granted extreme powers in times of crisis, have so far kept them from reaching epidemic proportions. But as the pace of life quickens, each seems to spread faster than the last.

As we meet our main character, she is walking down the streets of Shanghai, wondering if she is being followed...

What did I miss?

I opened this collection, The Future is Now, to marvel at all the strange and wonderful things going on around us every day. Feel free to tag me on anything you think might be relevant. Let's make this a collective gawking at our present, quickening world.
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