I think our destination is neither utopia nor dystopia nor status quo, but protopia. Protopia is a state that is better than today than yesterday, although it might be only a little better. Protopia is much much harder to visualize. Because a protopia contains as many new problems as new benefits, this complex interaction of working and broken is very hard to predict.
Today we’ve become so aware of the downsides of innovations, and so disappointed with the promises of past utopias, that we now find it hard to believe even in protopia — that tomorrow will be better than today. We find it very difficult to imagine any kind of future we would want to live in. Name a single science fiction future that is both plausible and desirable?
No one wants to move to the future today. We are avoiding it. We don’t have much desire for life one hundred years from now. Many dread it. That makes it hard to take the future seriously. So we don’t take a generational perspective. We’re stuck in the short now. We also adopt the Singularity perspective: that imagining the future in 100 years is technically impossible. So there is no protopia we are reaching for.
It may be that this future-blindness is simply the inescapable affliction of our modern world. Perhaps at this stage in civilization and technological advance, we enter into permanent and ceaseless future-blindness. Utopia, dystopia, and protopia all disappear. There is only the Blind Now.
Well, look at it this way. The year 2014 is the centenary of World War One. When you hang out in Europe like I do, you stumble over the rubble of World War One, quite a lot. Humanity was in a truly dreadful place, one hundred years ago. The world situation of humanity was truly bitter and hateful and and deadly, and, well, here we are anyway.
That’s the big picture. There are a lot of times and places where “humanity” is headed in no place in particular. Those scenes interest me. Like, little European cultures with weird minority languages, who are just hanging around in obscure mountain valleys, making clay pots and singing, and knifing each other on Tuesdays. You might think that a chrome-and-matte-black science fiction writer would lack a cordial interest in penny-ante cultural scenes like that, but they have their merits. It’s not like we all line up and dash like mad for some end-goal called “The Future.” There’s no victory-condition for being human. The future is just a kind of history that hasn’t happened yet.
Any prediction about what is in fact to come, when cast as fiction, runs the risk not just of being wrong but of being not about the future at all.
[…] the idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behavior that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice.
John Maynard Keynes (1937)