When I was a kid, the future looked like a pretty cool place. Everything was going to cooler, faster, sleeker, cleaner. By this time, 2021, we were going to have flying cars, personal jet packs at the very least. Personal robot housekeepers. Obviously, we would have advanced socially, with racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia all relics of the unenlightened past. Poverty would be, if not eradicated, at least greatly reduced. Technology and education would have lightened our workloads and increased our leisure time. Earth would be a utopia and we would of course be colonising other planets. At minimum, living on Space Stations. Really, it was going to be awesome.
Things never quite work out like you plan. Some things are even better than imagined. As a child, I don’t think I ever conceived of something as vast as ‘The Internet’. Now I can’t imagine a world where I can’t watch clips of ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ at 3am on my iphone. Smartphones are another area that exceeded expectation. They were hinted at with Star Trek communicators, but the reality is so much more. All the world’s information literally in the palm of your hand. Plus Candy Crush!
Some things have been disappointing. No flying cars, but given that many still haven’t mastered courteous driving on the roads, that may be a good thing. No personal Jet Packs, so I’m still taking the bus. Socially, economically, environmentally, things are probably worse than they’ve been in my lifetime.
And it feels like we’ve given up hope for the better. Back in my day (and yes, I know that makes me sound 1000 years old), when I thought of the future, I thought of Star Trek. A future where mankind had overcome prejudices and petty differences and evolved our way into the stars. Where merit, rather than privilege allowed you to advance. Star Trek was quite vague about how we eventually got there, but the destination was clear.
Today’s media paints a different picture. The future in most books, movies, video games is generally described as ‘Post-Apocalyptic. They tend to be fuzzy on the details of the apocalypse, whether it was war, famine, disease, environmental disaster or some combination of the four horsemen. But they are very clear that for most people, life is about surviving rather than thriving. There’s little to no optimism about the future.
Then I look at the headlines and think, “Yeah, okay, point taken.” Pandemic, economic collapse, ever-increasing wage gap, climate change causing floods, famine, drought, rendering more parts of the planet uninhabitable which leads to repeated refugee crises, rise of right wing nationalism, political division leading to revolution or fascism.
Okay, maybe those authors were being optimistic. In their post-apocalyptic futures, there are survivors.
I wish I could identify at what point we stopped looking to the future and started romanticising, glamorising the past. Like there was this golden era of history when everything was better. It’s in all the political rhetoric: Take Back Control, Make America Great Again, Let’s get back to normal. In reality, these eras were only golden for the privileged few, the groups who are now trying to drag us backwards. (Identified by the following descriptors: Rich, Straight, White, Old).
Take Back Control was the mantra of the Brexit Campaign. The Brexiteers were tired of being just a partner in the EU, they wanted a return to British Supremacy. In their minds, leaving the EU would somehow restore the British Empire. It hasn’t worked out that way. In seeking to escape the Bureaucratic river of red tape in Brussels, they’ve created an ocean of red tape at the UK borders. Truck drivers, hauling essential goods into the country, are stuck at customs for so long it’s not worth them making the journey. Boris’ new plan to restore the might of the nation? Abandon the Metric system and go back to the Imperial weights and measures. What’s next? Changing the money back to shillings and farthings? I think Boris’ view of Britains Golden era has a slightly Dickensian tang to it.
Make America Great Again…. This one’s been done to death. They will make America great for the 1% by eliminating the rights of anyone Black, Hispanic, Immigrant, female, LGBTQ+, Below a certain Income level, Below a certain education level, and anyone else they don’t like the look of. Just like in the good old days.
Getting back to Normal. This one annoys me the most. things weren’t great before the Covid Pandemic. Stress, Poverty, unemployment, underemployment, falling standards of living, education and health. Then all of a sudden, Covid-19. Lockdowns, closures, we all had to adjust. People had to work from home, do flexi-time. The concept of Universal Basic Income had long been scorned, now we had the Furlough scheme. These were things people had wanted for years, but employers said they were unworkable. We’ve had 18 months of these things being workable, but now we have to Get Back to Normal. It doesn’t matter if ‘Normal’ sucked.
So many things worsen gradually, by the time you realize the sorry state you’re in, it’s too entrenched to change it. Right now, we have an opportunity. The pandemic upended so many things. As we retrieve the scattered pieces of the game, maybe we can put them back on the board in a better order than before.
Maybe we can start looking for new ideas to build a future. Maybe we can include everyone in the plans, not just the privileged few. Maybe we can stop looking to the past for solutions. All we can find there are warnings.
And maybe I can finally get my jet pack.
Make sure I get mine too! 😉
Make sure I get mine too! 😉