The New Future
by Donald Melanson
With additional commentay and insight from
Douglas Rushkoff, author of Coercion and Media
For a very long time, the 21st century, and the year 2000
specifically, have been the future. It was then when we were supposed to
vacation on the moon, have personal robots, and fly to work in our personal
hover cars. But these seem as far off now as they did in the fifties. Even
technologies that were supposedly right around the corner, like real
virtual reality, are still far from our reach. What happened?
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world;
the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.
Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
-- George Bernard Shaw
It should be pointed out that many elements of these and
other technologies have, in fact, made it into our daily lives, but that isn't
as fun, is it? Most will agree that they will eventually become a reality, so
perhaps the predications of the great science fiction writers were just
slightly off. On the upside, many of the negative forecasts of science fiction
are of the same circumstance. 1984 came and went and all we were left with was
lots of bad records.
Of course we can never really reach the future, it's all a
matter of perspective. I think meeting the future as we perceived it in the
1950's would be an incredibly boring thing, and for the matter, the same can be
said of how we perceive the future now. In other words, if you could travel to
the future, would you rather go to the future as you can imagine it, or to the
one you can't?
Fritz Lang's future, from
In much the same vein, technologies that we lusted after
years ago quickly find a routine place in our lives once we have them, and as
such are not nearly as exciting. Which is very much how they are intended to
be. No one wants to depend on a new and exciting technology to manage their
personal information; they want a boring and safe one.
So what does this all mean? For futurists and science
fiction writers, it means the potential and need for new visions of the future.
Or, futures that are only slightly disconnected from the present. In fact, much
of cyberpunk fiction now seems to eerily fit this mold today.
Perhaps more so than any other genre, elements of cyberpunk
have become increasingly pervasive in our daily lives. We aren't quite in the
Neuromancer/Blade Runner world, but stepping back and looking at things for a
moment does reveal a great number of things that would seamlessly fit into that
world. Many of us now carry personal digital assistants that can beam
information back and forth to one another. We have laptops that are a complete
office and entertainment center, capable of doing everything from tracking your
location (and telling you where to go) via GPS to watching a DVD movie. Not to
mention wearable computers, which really are right around the corner now.
Other non-consumer aspects also seem to have taken a
cyberpunk style. Times Square in New York, or most of Tokyo, now look somewhat
like something from downtown Los Angeles, 2019 - minus the flying cars. All of
which gives us a new perspective on past science-fiction works. It's also quite
conceivable that someone could make a movie set in the present day that would
be classified as cyberpunk
Fiction becoming reality is nothing new, but this time
around, it is different. At no other time has the fiction predicting the future
been so pervasive in our culture. This means that by the time it becomes a
reality we are, to some degree, already familiar with it. Again, this is only
true for specific instances, like the elements of cyberpunk mentioned above. If
it were true for everything we'd all be bored to death.
Personally, I find this to be an incredible situation. It is
possible that it is partly the reason we have been adapting to new technology
at an amazing pace over the last two decades. The future is a place most of us
want to be, so we try our hardest to get there. Whether it be the explosive
growth of the Internet, or the widespread adoption of cell phones, there has
been a greater openness to new technology than probably any other time in
So what do others think of this? I asked author Douglas
Rushkoff how he thought our perception of the future has changed, and how the
past predictions of science fiction have influenced the present day.
Well, I think our move into the year 2000 has quelled some
of the uncontrolled futurism of late. Almost everyone was a futurist in 1999,
since we were leaning so far forward, speculating about how things might be
different. Now, it seems to me that most everyone is becoming a "presentist,"
if you will. We're here. The future has happened, and most people are looking
to how things are, rather than how things "will be."
As far as elements of past science-fiction have played a
role, I think people over-estimated how far our technology would take us, and
underestimated how much our economic models would effect us by now. I don't
think it's a matter of developing ethics for technology as much as developing
ethics that can direct our economic "progress."
The New Future, and most prognostication, will most likely
be more social, cultural, and political than it is technological.
Donald Melanson is the Editor-in-Chief of
Mindjack Magazine. He welcomes your comments on this article, or the magazine