Tron and the Future


Bruce Boxleitner, member of the Board of Governors of the National Space Society, who also played Captain John Sheridan on the television series Babylon 5, and as we all know, "Tron," has often pointed out in interviews that science fiction inspires people to create and develop technology from "the dream that it gives us." Many scientists and engineers at NASA were, for instance, greatly inspired by Star Trek and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Science fiction writers often imagine different kinds of technology which might exist in the future, and they also imagine scenarios in which this technology might be used by the characters they also create. One of the motivations for science fiction writers to imagine such possibilities is simply the desire for a 'better future.' The advancement of technology represents 'the future' in many people's minds because through time we see society change through various improvements and advancements in various kinds of technology.

Early in the 20th Century, people dreamed of flying cars, jet-packs, vast utopian cities, computers, robots and interplanetary travel, they imagined that all of this would have most certainly been invented by the year 2000. The truth is that the technology for all these things actually was all invented, but never widely implemented. What all these people dreamed of was a 'better future,' likely because as always, the present is full of problems, and technology we always hope may help solve those problems. A jet-pack or a flying car may represent more personal freedom, but as those things were actually invented, the 'vision' of the future never really happened, and while many writers imagined all these amazing 'things,' they didn't really consider the human dimension to 'the future,' and those who did were writing about futures which were not so happy. George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury for instance, wrote about those same kinds of futures, only where all these developments in technology were used against people. The convergence of all the technologies of their time were imagined to come together and make life worse, and as it has turned out the more negative science fiction visions have come true more so than the positive visions of the future.

We have all the things that the science fiction writers dreamed of, but we never came close to the utopian dream of 'The Jetsons' or Star Trek, and most of the technology we have today has come about as a reflection of a kind of collective state of humanity. We do not have robot drones doing our laundry, the initial use of drones is for killing people. We do not have jet-packs or flying cars, we have monster-size gasoline burning vehicles that have GPS tracking devices, and little black boxes that shut your car off if you don't pay the bills. The future imagined by past sci-fi writers is actually getting further and further away each day, and currently any technology or invention that might 'change the world' is carefully controlled, sometimes hidden, banned or abandoned because it actually might, or most often, it does not cater to the whims of the people which are also carefully monitored and influenced by the companies which have the power to create these technologies.

Our own state of culture dictates what technologies we have, and if we are restrictive, oppressive, and violent, that is the kind of technologies we will also have. Technologies reflect our state of mind, our state of cultural being, and if we live a certain way, our technologies will follow. There is scarcely a device or machine or any kind of technology that hasn't already been invented, or at the very least, drafted, tested, but then often abandoned, thrown away, covered-up, or banned. Some for good reason, some for no good reason. Technology simply reflects the state of the User, and if we are unthinking, selfish and unreasonable, so will our technology be as well.

TRON suggests many things about us and our technology, and in 1982, it offered a concept and illustrated a possibility, that of the dream of the personal computer revolution, which would help 'free us' and give people another great tool to create a better future. The conflicts in the story suggested many of the conflicts we now are faced with here in the future year of 2012. Unfortunately, after 30 years of trying this out, we have come to see that this vision of the future is beginning to be restricted. Previously, because IBM and Xerox either had no imagination or they couldn't see the money-making potential of the personal computer or the internet, it took Apple and Microsoft to come along and give us what we now see overwhelmingly influence us every day. Today however, after 30 years of developing this technology, we see that Apple and Microsoft, among the major internet companies such as Google, the new wave of development of this technology has come under the same purview that was IBM and Xerox of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and that is that they will control and dispense the technology that we shall experience and use, and today, Google and Apple control the experience of computers and the internet, our computers, our internet. They, like IBM and Xerox prior to the PC revolution, cannot see what the next phase of development is, nor are they interested in pursuing it. In TRON LEGACY, it is clearly illustrated that the representatives of the PC and internet revolutions, TRON and CLU, have become evil. We got our personal computers, we got our internet, but now those same two things have begun to turn around and be the opposite of freedom and creativity, they are beginning to reach into our lives and control us, they are turning your personal computers, and smart devices, and your use of the internet into their mainframe, their MCP, their control mechanism to be used against you. Things can be turned around, and as technology reflects us, there you have the visions, not of the positive science fiction authors, but the ones predicted by Orwell.

In TRON LEGACY, we see the heroes must fight against this 'turning to the dark side' of their former revolutionary heroes, and perhaps it's all because WE have lost our way. TRON and CLU are our programs, and they seem to have gotten away from us. The original spirit of TRON was a free system, and increasingly every day, this is just simply no longer the case. What we must do now with our technology is what we must do with ourselves as well. If we do not see this, the implied nightmare of CLU (or the MCP) making it off the GRID and coming into our world to control and destroy us, would in effect take away our technology from us, and create a nightmare so awful, it would likely be more like the TERMINATOR or the MATRIX. It may not take the form of artificial intelligence, it may simply be that the ENCOMs of the world decide to enslave the human race.

There are opportunities out there right now, even still, to not only stop this from happening, but to have yet another PC or Internet revolution, and looking back at the last 30 years, I would argue that there is no other way, the technology that is now being turned against us must be part of that new PC/Internet Revolution. It can even take the form of the purely capitalistic, another money making venture, but we are beginning to see that Apple and Google, the very greed-filled industry that profitted from the PC/Internet Revolution wants nothing to do with, which oddly, doesn't make sense, but it is what it clearly occuring. These companies have become what Steve Jobs and Bill Gates once called the old dinosaurs back in the 70s, they have become what they had to stand up to in order to be what they are today, and they refuse to change and be a part of the next tech revolution, they would more like to CONTROL that revolution, but looking back at the last 30 years, you can see that it came about because of the arrogant ambition and challenge seeking Steve Jobs, the spirit of revolting against IBM and Xerox, it came about from the people's desire for freedom from having to sign on to a mainframe and using 'allowed programs' and waiting turns and being 'denied access.' Now this is beginning to be how the internet works, and it isn't IBM's fault.

It may appear to the average person that the iPad and the iPod and the iPhone are the latest and greatest and only computer-internet devices and platforms in existence out there, and it may appear to the average person that only Apple and Google know anything, or do anything, or create anything, but this isn't the case. They may have control of the market, like IBM once did long ago, but they are seemingly not paying attention to the 'computer geeks' of the 21st Century. They also can't see how to make money off of what could be the next 30 year cycle, because they are not innovating any more, just like IBM, but what was inconceivable to IBM back in the 70s, ("why would the average person want or need a computer?") now applies to these overbearing fossils, Google, and Apple. They are not implementing the most cutting edge developments, though what they roll out to the public seems cutting edge, it is merely the latest packaging designed with 10 new control mechanisms and user-control agreements which prevent anybody from using stuff without their consent, or knowledge, they want to know what you're doing with your computer technology and they want to be able to own or control that. That's not what computers are for!

There are plenty of people working on all sorts of new things, but like the 70s, like little shy Steve Wozniaks, they have no idea that what they have is the next revolution, they're not sure if what they have is anything at all, they're not entirely aware that their latest little nerd-obsession is going to change the world, the only difference between IBM of the 70s and Apple and Google of 2012, is that IBM wasn't spying on every single person in the country. This raises all sorts of concerns, but I won't get into that in this article, the point is, there actually are pioneers out there, working diligently, and slightly oblivious to what they actually have and what it means, and meanwhile Apple and Google are most certainly not going to be implementing these things in their latest iPads and smartphones or tablets, the only things they are concerned with are more control of their customers, they're not concerned with freeing them.

What TRON LEGACY as well as the old TRON represents is the spirit and direction of that tech revolution, which we may go through over and over and over again until the end of time, it is the spirit of the freedom of the User, vs. the inevitable control mechanisms that come about from the greedy and overconfident monsters which pop up when new technology is created and developed. If you are an innovator, it is likely you don't work for Google or Apple today, if you're an Investor, you'd be better off looking toward the future, and for these new and unique "Wozniaks" of today, and you'd be better off becoming your own new Steve Jobs, but as a warning, see what happened? Do you see how the cycle goes? The people who wanted to use computers in the 60s may have had to sign up for 'computer time' on some mainframe, but they dreamed of having their own, today, people begrudgingly use Facebook and Google, and they use iPads or Androids or whatever is currently in fashion, but they secretly dream of something new that gives them more freedom, the technology for this new revolution is as unnoticed and ignored as was the Altair by IBM in the old days, expect Google and Apple to come up with the 'next big thing' and you'll miss out on it, and you'll fail to be a part of the next tech revolution which is already a few days overdue in its inception.

The Users are the center of it all, and now that the control of the Users is getting so tight, and restrictive, it simply pushes the vapors through the cracks, and under the door, you can't stop it, the time has come, fight for the Users, let the next tech revolution begin, it will be a great oversight and shock to the Googles and Apples of the world, but it must be, or we face those science fiction scenarios which, at this point, if we slide into in this next decade, it means the genres of the apocalyptic scene, it means Skynet, it means killer robots, it means Blade Runner, it means Escape from New York. It will make William Gibson novels look like the Jetsons.

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