Image Source: 20th Century Fox via Biology of Technology.
Time is money. Benjamin Franklin's quip drives Andrew Niccol's 2011 film, In Time, in which human lifespans, hard-wired in people's arms, are traded as hard currency. While the film is an average sci-fi thriller, it is conceptually interesting from a Millennial point of view.
In this story, the Singularity, so trumpeted by today's Boomer gurus such as Michio Kaku and Ray Kurzweil, has arrived. No one ages physically past age 25, and after that, they are given one year to live. They can extend that span and live forever if they can earn, buy, beg or steal the extra time. Citizens' lifespans can be automatically increased or decreased through clasping arms or accessing time terminals.
In the film, the Singularity has created a viciously hierarchical society, with the highest ranks accessible only to those who have time to spare. Police officers are known as 'time-keepers' and geopolitical jurisdictions are called time zones. The wealthiest zone, where people live with over 100 or even 1,000 years of excess time stored in their arms, is dubbed New Greenwich. In the poorest zones, people have only a few minutes or hours available to them, and they constantly have to scrounge to gain a few more minutes of life. There is enough time in total for everyone to live a normal lifespan, but the wealthy have accumulated and stored that time, keeping it from the poor, so that the former may live forever. The film has a generational message. In New Greenwich, most people are middle-aged and elderly, although they look young. In the slums, most people are actually young, and they die young. Immortality, enabled by gadgets embedded in the body, masquerades as Darwinian capitalism.
The balance of power see-saws between haves and have-nots, hinging on a clunky Bonnie and Clyde plot that recalls the Great Depression. This 1930s' reference reflects the Great Recession and the explosion of technology in our own time, and suggests how tech is changing our society and our economy.
Above all, the movie promises that technology creates and will create ever-worsening inquality, chronic debt and inflation, a decimation of the middle classes, and a small, super-rich class. While the poor are legally free, they are bound by their lack of time. One character remarks: "The truth is, for a few to be immortal, many must die." In response, an Occupy-type rebellion disseminates millions of human life years among the temporally impoverished in the name of equality.
This film offers a pretty conventional 20th century critique of evil capitalists. Its flaw is that it never questions the high tech Singularity which enables the entire dystopia. Despite this, the film implicitly confirms a fact never discussed in the mainstream media and business papers, namely, that our current recession is causally connected to the explosion of new technologies.
Image Source: 20th Century Fox via Hell Burns.
In the real world, financial recovery requires that developmental lags be resolved between a rapidly evolving society and an über-global economy, with significant revamps of moribund sectors. In other words, the recession is a product of growing pains between past financial theories, outdated political economies and old-fashioned, last-century modes of trading and professional conduct on the one hand - and, on the other hand, a tech-driven reality that is radically dislocated from all the ways in which we seek to understand it.
In Time (Official Trailer) © 20th Century Fox. Video Source: Youtube.
With a simple metaphor, time is money, this film hinted at a new ways of understanding how tech is changing our economic and political worlds. We need to grasp that corporate fatcat capitalists are 19th and 20th century bogeymen. They have been supplanted by tech gadgets, which now create social inequality. Superior communications erode immediate human communities but foster trans-geographical social interactions. Taken to a logical extreme, this implies the collapse of the nation-state and its replacement with transnational empires or new imperial spheres of influence, possibly based on cyber communities, not geographical location. Governmental power in this new order will rest more private data management and cyber-attacks than on conventional warfare.
Beyond external concerns over the abuse and commodification of private information, there is the debate on how tech is internally changing our brains, our cognition, our memories, and how it will be embedded to alter our bodies. There could be no greater deception than the notion that one's smartphone or tablet enable a free and buzzy lifestyle, when in fact they quietly demolish one's freedom. No one thinks that when they surf the Web that they are becoming a slave. But one should consider it. High tech is big business. This sector enjoys optimistic marketing and an exciting reputation. The reality it ultimately creates may be quite different. These implicit little truths demand ever greater scrutiny.