In the Virtualized Future, Everything Is for Sale - Even You

By Marx, Bill | The Christian Science Monitor, May 4, 2000 | Go to article overview

In the Virtualized Future, Everything Is for Sale - Even You


Marx, Bill, The Christian Science Monitor


THE AGE OF ACCESS By Jeremy Rifkin Tarcher/Putnam 312 pp., $24.95

Dystopias come in all shapes and sizes, from the perpetual boot in the face of George Orwell's "1984" to the reality-soothing pleasure pills of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World."

A social critic who specializes in raising alarms, Jeremy Rifkin rings an apocalyptic humdinger in "The Age of Access."

This nonfiction study posits that capitalism's addiction to new technologies eats away at traditional notions of property, community, and selfhood. Sooner than we think, life will be commercialized to the point that it is "likely to produce a very different human being."

Dystopias may differ, but they share one trait: Subtlety is not their strong suit.

Grimly earnest, Rifkin hypothesizes the end of human nature as we know it by critiquing current business and lifestyle trends, such as corporate downsizing, gated communities, and robotics. He blames the decay of civil society on the service economy, whose dependence on outsourcing undercuts notions of ownership, and cybernetworks, with their disorienting fusion of isolation and faux togetherness. People and businesses own less because they would rather rent or lease experiences than buy things.

Nothing - from the arts and religion, sports and social movements - is beyond the reach of "hypercapitalism." He writes, "Cultural time wanes, leaving humanity with only commercial bonds to hold civilization together. This is the crisis of postmodernity."

Rifkin suggests new technologies will shape a generation of theatrical selves with the empathy of a search engine. As artist Mark Amerika suggests, "I link therefore I am."

Yes, the virtualized future calls for bold speculation, and Rifkin provides troubling commentary on the growing corporate control of genes and seeds; the courts have either not kept up with advances in science and technology or are intimidated by the rate of change, an unprecedented degree of acceleration that makes old quandaries look new again.

But "The Age of Access" sounds a gong and then repeatedly bangs it over the reader's head. …

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In the Virtualized Future, Everything Is for Sale - Even You
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