I love the future. (I just want to state my bias upfront.)
It’s very easy to think about global conflict, ecological destruction, rising population, and economic inequality and believe the world is getting worse. Being optimistic about the future isn’t easy. The evening news will sabotage any positive feelings about the world and pop culture will encourage you to double down on the bet of a pessimistic worldview. Science fiction, the genre that tells us about the future, is pushing out movies like The Purge: Anarchy (population control through government sanctioned murder), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (the fall of humanity), Transformers: Age of Extinction (the “Creator” is evil), Edge of Tomorrow (war is constant), and encouraging everyone to assume the apocalypse is nigh.
The evening news shows us the ruinous world we live in today and science fiction highlights all the terrors that are coming. Occasionally we get a glimmer of hope from real science but more often science shows us the short distance between today and the future. In the last few months we’ve seen a company appoint an algorithm to its board of directors, colleges making video games into varsity sports, plastic that regenerates, salt water fish expected to be extinct by 2048, and of course self-driving cars. The world is changing quickly.
Coping with change causes stress, so a common response is to create a space with less change. A low-stress lifestyle creates an illusion of control and is built with nostalgia. Mid-century furniture, folk rock, steampunk, log cabins, and even the use of soft filters on iPhone photos help create a sense of a simpler time when we didn’t have to think about cyber-attacks from hacked refrigerators and transcranial direct current stimulation. Withdrawal is an aesthetic.
A lifestyle of withdrawal erases the complexity of the present and completely ignores the future. It’s an almost hedonistic idea of living for the now as the future is a dangerous place where self-replicating nano-robots might consume all matter on the planet, reducing the earth to a grey goo. In the face of this assumed apocalypse there is no need for planning. The idea of long term thinking is shortened from years to weeks. It’s a conservatism that goes far beyond politics; even production is now "short sprints" of "agile development" that respond to "organic growth".
In a 2011 Salon article titled, “Our Nostalgia is Killing Us” Amanda Petrusich concludes, "At its best, nostalgia helps us remember (and snicker at and respect and learn from) the past. But it’s troubling to think we could get stuck there — that we could lose our ability to forge new and significant relationships with art, and that we might no longer be able to use those connections to understand each other. Because that sounds counterproductive and, above all, lonely."
To withdraw from society is to surrender to pessimism and accept that the best world we will ever have is behind us. I don’t buy it. I’m impatient for domestic robots, brain wave interfaces, crypto-currencies, bionic limbs, and video games as spectator sports to be commonplace. The future is coming true before our very eyes and if we are looking backward we’re not just ignoring what is ahead, we’re also going to miss out on what is happening right now.
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