I've been thinking lots about the massive changes we will inevitably face as our world changes. More specifically, I've been asking myself how might we balance these inevitable changes with a respect for our past.
One thought experiment that's particularly compelling (and extreme) is NEOM, the proposed Saudi Arabian techno-futuristic vision for communal living.
On one hand is this bold vision:
On the other hand are its implications:
The Line is just one part of Saudi Arabia's controversial $500 billion NEOM mega city project. For one, the so-called virgin land that the government is building NEOM on is, unsurprisingly, not all that virgin. It is the ancestral and current home of many people, including members of the Hiawatha tribe, who are being forced from their homes for what many see as a vanity project that won't amount to much in reality.
Those who have dared to speak out against the government's plans or refuse to give up their homes have been harassed and abducted by Saudi security forces, arrested, or, in some cases, killed. For example, Abdul Rahim Al Huwaiti, a prominent Hiawatha activist, was killed by police in April of 2020 after posting videos on social media trying to raise awareness of the forced displacement.
All of this controversy has even led to some commercial partners pulling out of deals, like Riot Games, which had signed on NEOM to sponsor the "League of Legends" European Championship. Backlash from the gaming community caused that to quickly unravel.
Now, even if NEOM is eventually built and lives up to its lofty promises, there will still be plenty of more cause for concern. The Line is expected to be loaded with countless sensors, cameras, and facial recognition technology that, in such a confined space, could push government surveillance to almost unthinkable levels. Now, that would be troubling in any nation, but in a country like Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is outlawed, LGBTQ people are persecuted, and women hold almost no rights, it's downright terrifying.