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Ready to Walk Through It, Now Just Searching For the Door

Katie West

Recently, photographer, writer, all around interesting person, and friend of the show, Ms. Katie West wrote an article on the impact of The Matrix on the culture and minds of a certain generation: “I CAN ONLY SHOW YOU THE DOOR, YOU’RE THE ONE THAT HAS TO WALK THROUGH IT.

In this essay, Ms. West laments the lack of inspirational future narratives to be found in our culture these days, saying that, when we see the re-imagining of old promises in film, TV, and so on, we’re seeing a set of promises the like of which we haven’t seen since:

Unlike all those people in 1969 who have memories of where they were when Neil Armstrong said those famous words, I have no memory of where I was when the first person walked on Mars, or where I was when we achieved warp speed, because it never happened. I only remember where I was when terrible things happened. I know exactly where I was when planes crashed into buildings (in the darkroom at my high school developing pictures), or where I was when a tsunami almost wiped out an entire country I loved (in a bar in Los Angeles meeting people from the internet).

And the thing is, she’s right.

[ad#longpost]There’s so little by way of exploration and conceptual expansion out in the world these days for public consumption. We’ve given up–in all but name–on sending humans into space to seek out new worlds and new civilizations, and we don’t spend nearly enough time talking about the things under our oceans, or deep in our forests, and not just as, y’know, resources or whatever, but as Things About Which We Learn.

Where’s the equivalent to the Astronaut for today’s kids? The thing that pushes us to exploration, inspiration, wonder. Knowledge. Where are those things, for all of us? But let’s not get all maudlin, because Ms. West does a fantastic job of breaking down one of the last times our promises were fulfilled: The Internet. It’s not an immersive virtual world where we can touch and feel the consensual hallucination; not yet, anyway. But, as Ms. West tells us, it’s still a world where we can be strange and too smart and weird and kick ass and be loved for it. It’s a world where a flawed nerd can do what he needs to do to believe in himself, and that’s precisely the world that was promised to us, when the internet hit the public consciousness, in the early 90s.

You see, I’ve said it here before, that the popular culture–TV, movies, books, comics–isn’t just shaped by the hopes of the world, doesn’t just reflect them, but it shapes those hopes, and is reflected in them. When we have well-crafted, inspiring pop-culture media–shows, books, etc.–that lift us up, and point us toward something better, and maybe even show us how to get it–then we are more easily captivated by that media. It grabs our attention, and shapes the way that we talk about these things–space, time travel, deep sea exploration, whatever–and then a crazy thing happens: people start to talk about them, not as if they’re a distant possibility, but as things toward which we’re actively working.

Time travel is in the news, this week, as is faster-than-light travel and some extremely heavy physics. These are concepts which entered the public imagination through the popular media, and the majority of us wouldn’t have ever thought them possible, if someone hadn’t written a book, or a story, or a comic about it. I think that, when we take science and philosophy and art and make them visible to everyone, we give ourselves something to aspire to be.

Thanks to Ms. West for the reminder.