The Future Is A Blank Canvas Pinned To A Brick Wall

I am a Time Lord, and from the future I ask you what is the difference between Gibson’s quote last night and John Lydon yelling “No future”?

The concept that Science Fiction is losing the timeline – the vision of the future – because of the uncertainties of the present is a little frightening. It conjures some mythical version of the eighties, that mad sense of dislocation that comes with the concept of Armageddon. It is as if all the things we fear might kill us, that everything could end the world.

What a terrible thought. Worse, the idea that it might stop us really thinking about the future. Foresight and futurism are now discussed almost singularly as reactive tools. We are asked to imagine future solutions, to guess the best answers to problems we face now.

As a result, our futures are reactive. Our political and social maps are being framed as a consequence of today’s mistakes, not today’s possibilities. Our deferred pleasures are turning out to be sticking plasters.

I started thinking this in bed. I was there for ten minutes, head buzzing with a thought – thoughts – about the future.

I kissed Anne goodnight, got out of bed, put my iPhone in the LEGO Mobile, and opened Spotify. I’m playing Treats, typing on my wireless keyboard. I feel a little as if my doing all of these things has distilled my year into a handful of actions. I try and look ahead.

I can Google some of the samples on the album I’m listening to. I can discover that that blessed out beat sat underneath “Rill Rill” comes courtesy of Parliament. I can call up Funkadelic, scrobble it, dig around for a recommendation, move sideways, maybe to some De La Soul breaks. I can hear how these bands lay foundations for the music that comes next, whether they seep through as samples, guest vocalists or just through the speaker stacks.

If I want I can dissect the guts of “Stylo” and pull it into the perfect playlist.

I have infinite opportunities to explore the past like this. Generation Zero (births between 1998 and now – people too young to remember 9/11) will never know a world in which history is hard to access.

We access that history with tools that were, almost entirely, the props of science fiction my parents might have encountered – if they read it. My phone is my sonic screwdriver, the internet my TARDIS; these are the tools with which I unlock and manipulate time.

Take a leap and imagine these tools as a product of sci-fi’s imagined futures. Now think about a future in which we’ve stopped imagining them.

11 thoughts on “The Future Is A Blank Canvas Pinned To A Brick Wall

  1. Mhm, and that’s really close to something Gibson said about old SF, that it tells you more about what people are afraid of now than what they think about the actual future.
    But I’d rather people started imagining again. That’s partly a problem with what I read, but what I do read is a lot less foresighted than I feel it could be.

  2. In the most recent Loops journal, Simon Reynolds talks about sci fi literature’s failure to imagine the music of the future. Eg the Star Wars cantina band play a type of Benny Goodman band music; in Brave New World there are ‘futuristic’ instruments based on then-new ideas like the Wurlitzer…

    I think sci fi has always been a response to or comment on the problems of the present. Futurology maybe does something different, genuinely proactive rather than reactive, but isn’t sci fi a way of negotiating familiar issues in a more creative way?

  3. Maybe. It’s in part a creative response, but at best future SF imagines us in a new space and invents new means for us to engage with cultural concepts and issues that are perhaps achingly familiar in the now. In doing so it opens up more possibilities, and allows you space to imagine your interaction with the new or yet-to-be.

    It’s the flip-phone/communicator in Star Trek: “Wouldn’t it be cool to have one of those?” is an incidental sensation next to “I hope Kirk can tear that green monster a new one!”, but that incidental sensation takes on a significance when you’re instead thinking “Oh, I already *have* one of those.”

    It’s the future anome question recast: “Where is my jetpack?” becomes “What is the new jetpack?”

  4. Nice post! I agree with your general point, just not sure if the history available to Generation Zero is the same as the one we used to dig up out of textbooks…

    Best
    Nathan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s