Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s the vision of the future included push button convenience, flying cars, and shiny skyscrapers that reached for the upper levels of the atmosphere. The heroes of science fiction stories were inevitably competent, white, American males who solved the dilemma, enacted the solution, and came out with the winsome silver spandex wearing girl. And there was an optimism about the future. We had gone to the moon and it seemed the stars were within our grasp. Plans were imagined for orbiting space stations with artificial gravity, a moon base, and a colony on Mars.
During the 1980’s things changed. A gleaming future seamed not so likely. Bladerunner showed a gritty future. Alien had a female protagonist who merely survives an encounter with a badass alien. Terminator showed a future where technology destroyed our civilization and humans struggled to survive. Cyberpunk showed a reality in which normal people struggled and only a few elite had unlimited resources. The wide eyed optimism of previous decades was gone. Normal human beings were struggling for survival in a harsh, new, dystopic world.
But neither of these views comes close to our current reality. Perhaps it is too close in time to see what the future might hold, but I don’t think the denizens of that time period will view their reality as either a utopia or a dystopia. It will just be.
People from our own time would have difficulty conceiving of the mindset of people from the past. The ancient Egyptians’ world view would be almost incomprehensible to us. People in the future may look back at this time period and not be able to understand things like the concept of home ownership or being from a particular geographic country or ethnic background. They may be bewildered that we sat unprotected in the sunshine, felt that water from a municipal source was our due, or that we lacked instantaneous connection to anyone anywhere on the planet and required some type of primitive electronic device to do so.
Change happens. Nothing is static. Sometimes the world spins on an axis and technology jumps forward. Wars have a tendency to do this because in the act of fighting the war, new breakthroughs are made to kill more effectively. The breakthroughs lead to other applications and innovations. Things change. And even small changes can have huge impacts.
But often change just rolls into further change which rolls into further change. It is a seamless transformation and the future creeps closer and farther away.
We have gleaming skyscrapers that reach for the upper atmosphere. We have home appliances that do everything from wash clothing to make coffee to vacuum the carpeting. Flying on an airplane has become cheaper and more commonplace. Computers used to fill rooms. Now we have laptops. We carry cellular phones that can locate us anywhere in the world.
We also have locations on the planet where rape is a form of political subjugation, governments have created laws to limit population expansion, the top one half of one percent owns an unbelievable amount of the wealth of our most prosperous countries, corporations pay their CEO’s many times what they pay regular workers, HIV continues to rampage and getting funding on the effects of the disease on newborns whose mothers are infected is limited, the amount of clean, fresh water is a growing concern, and the planet is heating up due to global warming.
So change happens. Are we living in an utopian time? Or in a dystopian time? Why should any vision of our future, short of extinction of our species, be either utopian or dystopian?