Saturday, July 6, 2013
Saturday activity # 1 -- Squinting at tomorrow today
When I was a little boy, I got bored on Saturdays, since there was no school. I would beg my mother for "an activity," and she would dig up a puzzle or a project, something for me to do. In that spirit, as a reward for listening to me all week, I thought I'd come up with an activity for you, something fun and relaxing. This is the first:
The future is not a real place; it exists only in our minds. Or did. We used to have a fantastic future ahead of us. Limitless. Or so we thought. We'd live forever in colonies on Mars. Once -- in the 1960s, 1970s -- we had a distinct image of what was to come, half "Jetsons" mechanical miracle, half "2001: A Space Odyssey" voyage of adventure. Enthralled with the Apollo program, we figured, if we could go to the Moon, imagine what might come next. We weren't exactly sure what that would be -- nutrition pills and medical miracles, lots of flying, lots of robots, lots of artificial fabrics -- but we knew it would be incredible. "They'll be Spandex jackets, one for every one," in the immortal words of Steely Dan.
Now it seems that nothing comes next, or nothing good anyway. The only notion of the future we seem able to conjure up is a bleak one -- zombie apocalypse dystopias of ruin. Plague and disaster on a global scale. Environmental and social cataclysm.
Since predictions of the future always say far more about those making the predictions than they do about the actual future -- it's only an accident when predictions mesh with something that actually occurs -- it worries me that when we squint into the years ahead and can only conjure up our stale dreams from 50 years ago, or imagine destruction, or see nothing. Have we lost our optimism? Or have our technological wonders so outraced our imagination that we can't conceive of anything that Apple doesn't already have in production? Maybe the future is now -- that seems unlikely, because people were declaring that everything was already invented in 1900 and, needless to say, they were wrong.
Maybe we're just more realistic, and understand that you can't predict what's going to happen and there's no point in trying.
Since you've spent the week listening to me, I figure, on Saturdays, I should listen to you. We should try a special project together: this is your chance to put on the pundit's cap and say what you think the future will be like in 50 or 100 years. It could be argued that this is more than idle speculation -- we can't build a world if we can't imagine it. It is a worthwhile exercise, if only to provide fodder for future pundits, assuming there are any (projecting my own anxieties into the world to come) to seize upon our woefully mistaken notions and laugh at them, as we do the shortsighted auguries of the past.
So in a sense, this is a chance for immortality, at least of the sort represented by being dredged up and smirked at a century from now. Think hard, give it your best shot and share your thoughts here, and I will maybe use them in a column in the not-so-distant future about our changing ideas of what the world to come may be like.