Could anyone in 1995 have known how today’s technologies would alter human interaction?
That question is at the heart of “A Few Thousand Upgrades Later,” a new show premiering this week as part of the FringeArts Festival.
The work is based on a master’s thesis written and performed two decades ago by Brian Shapiro, who was living in San Francisco at the time.
“Here I was, sort of a skeptical graduate student and looking at how technology was increasingly creeping into everyday life on a basic level,” he said. “Like, wow, the ATM is prevalent … what’s going on here?”
Shapiro asked six people their take on these changes, including cultural critic and author Neil Postman and Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man. He then took those interviews and folded them into a piece titled “Americans Online.”
Twenty years on, some hypotheses haven’t panned out.
“I don’t think anybody predicted that [technology] would become this massive economic driver that has managed to infiltrate everybody’s personal identity,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro is revisiting those blunders, as well as some accurate calls on the future (Postman knew online banking was coming; he didn’t like it), and is working them into “A Few Thousand Upgrades Later.”
His own experiences with technology will also filter through the performance.
“When I think about the number of images that my children are exposed to, how often they see themselves? I mean, these are going to be the most documented children ever in the history of the planet,” he said. “It’s like, what is this doing to their brains? Are we going to become a fundamentally different species, with what we’ve created?”
At 47, Shapiro thinks of himself as the last of the analog generation.
He also retains a good dose of skepticism toward the promises corporations and Silicon Valley make about improving our lives with digital tools.
“Look, I love technology. My life would suck without it. But, you know, there’s still that part of me, like, ‘you guys are ridiculous.'”
The first of five performances is set for Thursday as part of the Fringe Festival.