I’ve long considered the varied visions of the future and how the individual elements come to be or not. In what ways does the future end up being exactly what we think it should look like? What are the unpredictable transformations that we can’t foresee? Is some ways the aesthetic of the future has been similar for more than 60 years though the tools and resolution available to render it has improved significantly. One consistency in describing our future seems is the inclusion of both dystopian elements and magical sleek technology. The narrator in William Gibson’s story underlines this tension. He points out how the architects and designers of the future come from a privileged class that makes products and buildings that are aerodynamic on the outside but inside, function on the same old mechanics. In fact the entirety of society seems to be represented this way in many Sci-Fi depictions (Blade Runner and such films as District 9 come to mind right away) Everyone is using a whole host of new tech from flying cars to electronically camouflaging outfits as well as ever kind of high tech weapon. Underneath this tech veneer people live with all the same problems we grapple with today: Social hierarchies, greed, environmental destruction, racism, sexism, consumerism, depression, violence, and so on. The future is almost always exactly like the present with more tech and fancier buildings. Gibson’s character points this out the lack of acknowledgement for problems like pollution, finite bounds of fossil fuels, lost foreign wars and so on by futurist design. This makes me think about a guiding question I discuss throughout a sustainable energy class I teach: Can Technology save us from climate change or do we need to fundamentally change the way we operate? Students quickly come to the conclusion that we are at a point where some of each will be necessary but as we start talking about the specifics, it’s much easier to think up high tech ways to reduce carbon (not that most of the solutions are actually feasible from an economic / engineering standpoint) but it’s much harder to imagine ways to change the ways people / industries operate. In the end, some students feel like the only way to change society is through fairly strict (I would say undemocratic) laws and regulations. It would on this very day, seem that we are right on track to meet any sci-fi prediction of the future: We’re getting super high tech! and consuming our essential elements and resources as furiously as ever.
The narrator also acknowledges the fetishes for the past that make their way into the design of the future. I immediately think of such contemporary movements as “Steampunk” which are fifty-fifty Victorian or Wild West and Futurist.
Things that the future will have (according to science fiction):
-cryogenic freezing chambers
-lots of cameras (even more than now)
-humanoid robots everywhere
-hanging out with aliens
-space travel is easy
-living inside glass globes