Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Re-imagining the future
I have sometimes thought that it would be interesting to write a history of the future. I hear you asking: What on earth would that be? Well, the future has long been a favourite topic of fiction and non-fiction, of television and cinema. We love to speculate about what the future will bring. So, I am wondering: How has our concept of the future changed over the years? How accurate have the various previsionings of the future turned out to be? To what extent have these previsionings actually shaped the present in which we live?
This last question is particularly interesting because our present is not independent of these earlier visions. These visions have, to some extent, shaped our expectations, generated ideas. And some of these have subsequently become our reality today. So Star Trek (for example) did not simply predict the existence of notebook computers and eBook readers. Someone watching those shows probably thought to themselves, “Hey, what a great idea!”
It is certainly also true that the way a society at a particular time and place envisions the future says a great deal about that society. It tells us something about that society’s hopes, dreams and fears. Orwell’s 1984, to take an obvious example, surely tells us as much, if not more, about the psychology of 1947/48, as it does about the future (as envisaged at the time). Studying the past’s visions of the future, knowing what we now do about that past, can tell us something about our own greatest hopes and fears. What do our visions of the future say about us, here and now?
While this would be a very interesting exercise at the level of society, perhaps it can also tell us something about our own individual hopes and fears. What is your vision of the future? Has your vision of the future changed over the years? Which of the multitude of visions offered today by the media of books, cinema, television and video games, resonate most with you? Which do you find most attractive, which the most terrifying?
The future, remember, is just over the page. See you tomorrow.