Our future is still living in the past. We’re all still waiting around for geodesic domes, flying cars and megalopolises – ideas dreamed up in the 1960s and earlier. Hell, I report science and technology for a living; I spend every day poring over magazines and websites describing discoveries “with the potential to change” this and that “hold the promise of” curing that; but, here I am, still waiting for the future of my (and my parents’) childhood.
So, what’s the problem? Well, I might have already hit on it: We’ve grown so accustomed to how discoveries and innovations are reported – to that de rigueur enthusiasm – that we’ve stopped believing in it. Or maybe we’ve hit a version of Toffler’s Future Shock, in which we feel so overwhelmed (yet oddly unimpressed) by the technological golden age in which we live that we simply bob along in the current, unable even to imagine where all of this is headed.
I mean, people: We have dancing robots. We’ve cracked the human genome. We have pocket-sized devices that put anything that they imagined in the 1960s to shame. We have the Internet, for Pete’s sake. Our response? “Meh.”
But I think the real reason we don’t lose our grip on the dreams of the past boils down to a simple factor: We are still waiting for the other future, because it is undeniably cool. It’s like the TV show Archer: It’s not set in any particular time; rather, it’s set in the best imaginary time period to be a spy: the clothes of the 50s, the muscle cars of the 60s, the (less heated) Cold War of the 70s, but with the computers of the 80s and the cell phones of the 90s.
That’s what we want from our future: to brim over with the bold imagination that sprung from the most optimistic and, frankly, decadent eras of our nation, but without the awkward downside. Ironically, that’s unlikely to happen, since the downsides were largely what inspired those ideas and drove people to consider them at all: traffic for flying cars, pollution for domed cities, etc. Instead, we’re left with the old future’s spiritual opposite: A burgeoning green industry in search of ways to remove these root problems – an industry which, let’s face it, no one is exactly giddy about.
We love green tech intellectually, but we crave flying muscle cars.
Geographers talk about how we all have mental maps – ways that we, as individuals, see the world: not as a grid or a road atlas, but as “near the place where I proposed to my wife” or “on my way to work.” It’s a personal and emotionally charged place and, for many of us, whatever isn’t on it simply doesn’t exist. The future is a place, too. L. P. Hartley famously wrote that, “The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there,” but search the Internet, and you’ll find that many of use prefer to apply his observation to the future.
And what of that imagined place, that mental map? Do we already live there? If so, would the children that read of conurbations in the clouds and cities beneath the seas think that we still dream big enough? That’s what this blog is all about.