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Guest Thinkers

Tom Hanks Defines and Carves the Future

Let’s be honest: when we think about the futuristic scenarios, we don’t think of Tom Hanks. Most frequently associated with his brilliant portrayal of Forrest Gump, Hanks exudes the kind of sweet naivete that makes him perfect for rustic romantic dramas. But Hanks is now sketching out a picture of the future that is noticeable precisely for its sunny outlook. “Electric City,” a series conceived and written by Tom Hanks, will offer “a tantalizing view of the future of civilization, presented through the lens of provocative themes such as energy consumption, freedom of information, crime and punishment.

In an interview with the New York Times, Hanks explained, “Without a doubt, everything has changed, but not necessarily for the worst. In fact, a good life and good world has been created out of the usual end-of-life scenarios. It hasn’t degenerated into an Orwellian society – just the opposite.” It may sound naive, but why is that? All our perceptions of the future are based on science fiction novels and movies, almost 100% of which portray a future which is cold and alienating, a violentchaotic place populated by androids and dark skyscrapers. Perhaps it will take a movie star again to have us rethink what we’ve been led to believe. In “Electric City” there is hope in a highly energy constrained world.

Hanks is not only imagining the future, he is also creating it. “Electric City” will not only air on NBC every Thursday at 8pm. It will be streamed in bite-sized animated modules to your phone, to the web, and be available for full immersive experience in the form of a virtual city like SimCity. Short spurts of adrenaline inducing entertainment that, unlike MTV videos, have a storyline is the going to become the most popular form of entertainment in a world where attention is a three-second state. Entertainment will also be an experience, not a spectacle. That means the story line snakes out on multiple digital platforms, each of which can be traversed by you to enjoy another facet of a complex yet hugely entertaining plot. If he does it right, Hanks could successfully create the first such transmedia series. He certainly has the cash to make it possible: not Hollywood cash, but Bollywood moolah.

This brings us to our third point: Hanks series shows that in the future, even American soft power will be funded by emerging markets that have long emerged like India, China, and Brazil. “Electric City” will be produced by Mumbai company Reliance, which last year also gave $325 million to Steven Speilberg to fund his projects. Hanks explained why Reliance BIG Entertainment was interested. “They immediately came to us, and said: ‘Look, in India alone, there are like 700 million people who speak English, who are very much used to looking at things that last about three minutes on their phones. What they haven’t seen so far is a true story that they stay up with.'”

700 million people who understand the challenges of the future, are exposed to various scenarios of cutting-edge research and science, and live the dilemmas and informed choices of characters through experiential digital mediums: “Electric City” may create a competitive workforce that can take that knowledge and innovate faster than you can say ‘outsourced’

Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.


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