April 7, 2002
The Shape of Things to Come, in Their Eyes
``In the future Boston will still be under construction,'' according
to Joe Haldeman, a poet and science fiction writer who teaches at
MIT. Sounds about right. But when we think beyond the Big Dig and
the question mark floating over Fenway Park, what kind of city do
we imagine? In his novel ``The Diagnosis,'' Alan Lightman paints
a dark vision of a future that is already us. " There is an
increasing obsession with speed, information, and money, and an
accompanying spiritual loss - of the inner self, of time to reflect.
New technologies, especially communications, regulate the speed
of daily life and create an artificial urgency."
Lightman originally planned a nonfiction book on technology's impact
on private life, but turned to fiction for its power to engage the
reader emotionally and psychologically as well as intellectually.
This story of a man so battered by the pace of his life that, while
riding the T to work one morning, he suddenly loses all memory of
who he is and where he is going, is Lightman's comment on how we
are losing the private spaces and silences we need to think and
find spiritual renewal. In his MIT office, an Oriental carpet on
the floor and no computer on the wooden desk, Lightman speaks in
a deep Southern-accented voice of the choices we each make every
day and of the life they add up to. Among his own choices are not
to use e-mail or a cellphone.
"Since the Industrial Revolution, we've tended to assume that
all technology is progress," he says. "In `Walden,' Thoreau
wrote that, in deciding whether civilization and technology are
an improvement, we have to ask ourselves what is the cost and how
much life we give up. I'd like to see us reclaim our lives at the
Marlon Carey is another writer who feels Boston's future lies in
the choices and actions of its people. By day an editorial assistant
at the Museum of Science, Carey is, by night, a poet known at the
Lizard Lounge and the Cantab for his energetic hip hop performance
style. He left his native Jamaica as a child and, after a few years
in Brooklyn, in 1990 moved with his family to Dorchester, where
he still lives.
"When I was younger, I set out to write the definitive poetry
about my urban setting," Carey says with a self-deprecating
smile. "Then I realized that poetry is something you just breathe.
Whatever I live is what I write."
What Carey lives, at 24, is a sense of ownership of his community
and a serious commitment to its well-being. He is passionate about
issues like education ("You can't improve a school system by
taking some of the kids out and putting them in private school"),
rent control ("You have people struggling just to stay in the
area they live in"), the physical environment ("I'd like
to see a safer, cleaner Dorchester, where people actually care enough
to protect and maintain it"), and other concerns ("We
don't recognize that a problem is a problem until it explodes and
we see the full effects").
When he writes about the city, he envisions the local community
and the larger city working in concert. Most of all, he sees individuals
taking their destiny into their own hands - "not waiting for
help, but seeing what options they have and what they can do for
As one of Carey's poems says, "I will mark my place/ on the
surface of the rhythm/ and/ scratch out a blueprint for a new way
To read more about the Boston of the future, check out http://tatooine.fortunecity.com/
leguin/405/fl/fubos.html., the Web site of the "Future
Boston Project," a collaboration of Boston-area science fiction
and fantasy writers. Also see Jane Holtz Kay's "Lost Boston"
and "Asphalt Nation" and Ray Kurzweil's "The Age
of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence."
City Type features the city's writers exploring their world. If
you have suggestions, contact Ellen Steinbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org.