Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us About Digital Technology
A highly engaging tour through progressive history in the service of emancipating our digital tomorrow
Shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, Australia
When we talk about technology we always talk about tomorrow and the future—which makes it hard to figure out how to even get there. In Future Histories, public interest lawyer and digital specialist Lizzie O'Shea argues that we need to stop looking forward and start looking backwards. Weaving together histories of computing and progressive social movements with modern theories of the mind, society, and self, O'Shea constructs a “usable past” that can help us determine our digital future.
What, she asks, can the Paris Commune tell us about earlier experiments in sharing resources—like the Internet—in common? How can Frantz Fanon's theories of anti colonial self-determination help us build digital world in which everyone can participate equally? Can debates over equal digital access be helped by American revolutionary Tom Paine's theories of democratic, economic redistribution? What can indigenous land struggles teach us about stewarding our digital climate? And, how is Elon Musk not a future visionary but a steampunk throwback to Victorian-era technological utopians?
In engaging, sparkling prose, O'Shea shows us how very human our understanding of technology is, and how when we draw on the resources of the past, we can see the potential for struggle, for liberation, for art and poetry in our technological present. Future Histories is for all of us—makers, coders, hacktivists, Facebook-users, self-styled Luddites—who find ourselves in a brave new world.
Praise for Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us About Digital Technology
“Before we became big data bundles for the lackeys of Dorsey, Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Bezos, to exploit, the digital revolution seemed to promise a democratic utopia, a commons in cyberspace not governed by neoliberal norms. Can we realize that revolutionary dream and stop desiring our own domination? Incredibly, yet thrillingly and plausibly, Lizzie O’Shea argues that, if only we can mobilize history to serve rather than enervate us, the answer is yes.”
“There has never been a better time to pull the politics of platform capitalism into the foreground where it belongs. Lizzie O’Shea brings a hacker’s curiosity, a historian’s reach and a lawyer’s precision to bear on our digitally saturated present, emerging with a compelling argument that a better world is there for the taking.”
“A potent, timely, and unrepentantly radical reminder of history’s creative potential. Lizzie O’Shea’s Future Histories should be required reading for anyone planning on surviving—and even repairing—our grim technological moment.”
—Claire L. Evans
“A thought-provoking text for readers looking to approach the subject [of digital technologies] from a well-informed … perspective.”
—Engineering and Technology Magazine
“There’s plenty of history in Future Histories, but the perspective is polemical and eclectic: a pinch of socialism, a dash of anarchism, relentless strictures on digital misconduct, and, throughout, a salutary call to use technology to fulfill humanity’s potential.”
“In engaging, sparkling prose, O’Shea shows us how very human our understanding of technology is, and what potential exists for struggle, for liberation, for art and poetry in our digital present.”
—New Books Network
“O’Shea’s approach is avowedly episodic as she mines history for illuminating gems.”
—Hettie O’brien, Times Literary Supplement
“This insightful, provocative book is an intellectual kaleidoscope that sits effortlessly at the crossroads between investigation, history and radical philosophy.”
—Victorian Premier’s Literary Award panel
“A startlingly original book, one that belies comparison to most other books … Although it is not, I would argue, a fair expectation that writers who analyse or expose societal problems should also be the ones to prescribe the remedies to solve them, this hefty task is one that O’Shea takes on with aplomb and considerable skill.”
—Ruby Hamad, Meanjin