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 individual level."

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 themselves."

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 of living."

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 citytype@globe.com.

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