You are reading a State of Dystopia post. These entries note the news events that put us on the cyberpunk dystopia timeline. Read them now to see the future we’re going towards. Or read them in the future to figure out where things went wrong.

In our insane 24/7 news cycle, it’s hard to pause and take stock. This has proven especially true in 2020, with damn-near every month looking calamitous.

And that’s especially relevant now: this is being published on Election Day, 2020. People are worried, understandably, about unrest and perhaps even outright street violence.

But the truth of the matter is that, independent of the 2020 election’s outcome or the reaction to it, cyberpunk dystopia was a long way coming.

So before you freak out about elections this week, consider the things that happened in October that have been in-line with the road to dystopia.

October’s dystopian developments:

  • 8 million Americans fall into poverty. That rise in poverty has occurred within the last 3 months, and is tied clearly to federal aid drying up.
  • NYC schools reopen…unequally. As local governments grapple with managing school reopenings, NYC has seen a trend that is both unsurprising and foreboding. Rich schools have mostly returned to in-person teaching, while the poorest are considerably more virtualized.
  • California faces more blackouts, evacuations. Nothing much to say here that’s new.
  • A record-setting Atlantic storm season.
  • The Arctic begins releasing methane. This would be the third discovery, if confirmed, of Arctic methane release. Climate scientists believe global warming will cause ice to melt in the Arctic, releasing previously-stored methane. Methane has a significantly stronger warming effect than carbon, so this would contribute to a feedback loop of warming and emissions build-up.
    • The outcomes of such a feedback loop are incredibly difficult to predict in climate models: it’s one of the more ominous wild cards in climate change.
  • Study finds Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals in the last 20 years. Despite covering just 0.01% of the ocean floor, reefs host 25% of all marine fish species. It’s a huge loss for biodiversity.
  • The Hunter Biden story gets suppressed. It’s dangerous to think that this is only relevant to right-wing nuts. Several prominent left-wing voices have spoken out as well (e.g., Greenwald, Taibbi). Simply put, a typical corruption expose was published by right-wing media outlets, and Twitter and Facebook suppressed the sharing of the story on dubious grounds. Today it’s against Republicans. Tomorrow it might be against you.
  • Yelp to flag businesses accused of racism. The question here is simple: is there any better way of combating racism than allowing possibly dubious complaints (in a time of rapidly changing social norms) to stick to businesses, during the worst economic crisis in decades? There are some companies who will not be significantly phased by these complaints. Those companies are named McDonald’s, Taco Bell, etc.
  • SpaceX collaborates with the Pentagon.
  • The co-founder of Uber quietly spurs on a feudal economy. Travis Kalanick owns a startup called CloudKitchens. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that entities linked to CloudKitchens have paid more than $130 million to acquire 40+ properties over the last two years. Why?
    • Because he’s preparing to usher in the next big thing in food delivery: ghost kitchens. Restaurants that are delivery-only. They don’t need the space for seating, or the labor for waiters, so they’re cheaper to run. CloudKitchens will lease the space to kitchen-only restaurants.
    • It’s a model that could undercut an already-struggling restaurant industry. It’s one that digitizes our lives even further, with yet another real-world set of interactions removed for convenience. Meanwhile, tech companies wouldn’t just control the delivery–they’d own the restaurants’ property, too. And it seems fair to assume this would be sustained by precarious gig-work.
  • Rideshare fights Prop 22. Proposition 22 is a California referendum intended to overrule earlier state legislation that classified gig workers as employees. Sponsored by rideshare and delivery app companies, the efforts to which the companies have gone to protect their labor model offers us a glimpse into the road ahead.

Some good news?

Being aware of dystopian trends is important. But accuracy ought to take priority in doing so, and that means appreciating the good news when it happens.

For good news in October, there are just a few items. But each is important:

Good reads from October

And that’s October. Stay tuned, and stay sane this week.

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