Tuesday 28 February 2012

Are we on our way to Utopia or Back to the Dark Ages?

“James Martin: The Change Agent”, is now available on Kindle as an e-book – a highly suitable format for a text which provides a dramatic view of what the future holds for all of us.

The story started when I received an urgent invitation to a mysterious private island in Bermuda from an old friend who had recently donated more than £100-million to Oxford University.

The island gradually revealed its labyrinthine secrets as the host, futurist James Martin, explained the choice that faces us all: to create the greatest Utopia ever, or plunge ourselves back into the Dark Ages, maybe even destroying Homo sapiens completely.

At the same time he explained how a shy boy from a poor family in Ashby-de-la-Zouche had come to be Oxford University’s biggest ever donor, (bigger even than Sir Thomas Bodley), and the founder of the extraordinary Oxford Martin 21st Century School. He is basically investing in ideas. The School’s many interdisciplinary institutes, and more than a hundred fellows across the collegiate university, are studying potential global catastrophes like climate change, bio-engineering, pandemics, mass migration and the possibility of human extinction before the end of the 21st Century. At the same time they are trying to harvest the incredible opportunities arising from new technologies and innovations, as well as studying social change and striving to improve our understanding of how to deal with systemic risk.

Along the way Jim has encountered people as varied as Bertrand Russell, and David Bowie, Bill Gates and Lee Kuan Yew. From prime ministers and presidents to cold war spies and business leaders, he has been called in to advise them all and his books have been read by millions.

"The Change Agent" also reveals the extraordinary secret history of Agar’s Island that he uncovered beneath the rocks and rampant vegetation and tells the story of how he has restored the underground labyrinth to its former glory and turned the entire island into his own eccentric, ecological, private paradise. Above all, however, it is a gripping conversation about the man’s ideas, which are the reason so many millions of people read his books and attend his lectures.

Falling out of Love with Physical Books

Last month in my allotted space on the "Do Authors Dream of Electric Books? blog ( authorselectric.blogspot.com ) I bared my soul regarding difficulties in my relationship with my desktop. This month I had to confess to the even more traumatising discovery that I might have fallen out of love with an even more long-standing soul-mate.

When I was first introduced to my pretty young iPad a year ago I imagined that it would merely widen my horizons, offer me more options and some lively entertainment. I stumbled into the relationship like some wide-eyed old fool who fails to realise he has been targeted as potential sugar-daddy material, never thinking it would make me question my relationship with the printed books who had been part of my life ever since I first met Paddington Bear. But suddenly I find myself irritated by features of my old love that I once found endearing or was totally blind to. I am impatient with physical shortcomings that I would once never even have noticed.

This realisation dawned when a book I needed for research purposes was not available as an e-book. So, the first annoyance came from having to wait a whole day for Amazon to get a physical copy to me. Imagine! A whole day! Most of that time, I tried to tell myself, was actually night, but already the seeds of discontent had been sown.

The book arrived and I carried it off to one of my favourite reading places, only to find that we now do not have bright enough lighting for anything which doesn’t have a back-lit screen, (a result of energy-friendly light bulbs and aging eyes). There was no facility for increasing the size of the print to compensate, which my obliging little iPad would have been happy to provide for me. When I did eventually find enough light I discovered that the print ran too close to the edge of the pages for me to be able to keep the book open without either contorting my fingers uncomfortably or cracking the spine back in a way that would once have seemed like sacrilege. With one spiteful jerk I snapped its fragile spine, immediately feeling like I’d kicked a kitten.

This book is perfectly well published by a highly respected house and in the past I would have accepted all these annoying little features without a second thought – just as I once accepted that a television needed to be “warmed up” and that Radio Luxembourg’s signal would fade whenever my favourite song came on. I have been seduced away from a long-standing and faithful love and I think I may just have to get over it and move on. When I was first permitted to use ink rather than pencil at school I had to dip the nib in an inkwell every few words, (an inkwell which was invariably clogged with old blotting paper which then stuck to the nib and …. I digress). I felt no guilt about the abandoned pencil, nor did I later feel guilt when I was allowed to move on to a fat, shiny, garishly coloured floozy of a fountain pen which held a decent supply of ink, (we were never allowed to use biros, that would have been taking technology too far), so I think I must now try to muster the same pragmatic approach to this latest betrayal of an old friend.

photo of author by Louis Leeson