Time has an article in their recent (February 21, 2011) issue which people have been buzzing about all over the internet. The article is about the so-called Singularity; the moment when computers become super-human and our civilization, the so-called "human era," ends. Anyone who's thought about the future, technology, and where our human race is headed has to have thought about this topic.
As a writer, my conclusion is that writing will someday become pointless. I don't think that's a new conclusion either. The way we communicate with one another and share ideas will be fully integrated and non-dimensional. We will have instant access to each other's ideas and experiences if we so choose—and maybe someday there will be no choice in the matter. If we want to share (write/read) a book, eventually we will be able to create and live it as a full sensory experience. Who will need words? The baby steps for this kind of technology are already out there. Human civilization is at a kind of crossroads in so many ways--not just with the environment but also in writing, reading, and communication.
What will this do to our government, politics, and the leadership of nations? Much as I disagree that people being killed is a worthwhile price to pay for a contribution to this open information environment, I understand Julian Assange's intentions (founder of Wikileaks)--or at least I'd like to think I do. But I think I'm digressing, however interestingly.
What is potentially left behind in our culture is literature in its entirety. Where will we put literature and what need will there be for it? Literature is incredibly inefficient. At the same time, how do we translate and appreciate the verbal wit and subtlety of A Passage to India or Shakespeare's rain in The Merchant of Venice? By 2045, it's been predicted that computers will exceed the brainpower of the entire human race, so maybe by then (if not sooner) there will be a way.
Last June, Salon's Open Salon ran a commentary on how literary journals were moving from print to online, and what this meant for the future of such journals, and as a follow-on, literature in general. It's a big question in and of itself, but I'll try and comment on some of the issues involved with this and the Singularity in the blog posts that follow.