The dyspeptic future

Future scenarios are usually unhappy ones, dystopian rather than the cause of heart-burn, because they run away with the conflict narrative where some power overwhelms normal people, viz. the reader of the future vision and in that drama tension and conflict arise. It is dusted off frequently for a new outing; as it had this week, albeit, tongue in cheek.

The first thing about the futurist scenario is that it’s almost like what we know and for some reason, it’s more progressive or, creatively destructive, to apply Schumpeter’s phrase. What does it look like?

Well, technology predominates to the degree that machines write books and the open space of the web allows multiply authors to coordinate stories. Mmm…really? This version of technological intervention has been floated for many years and looked possible in the cyberspace world in the ‘90s. While it’s true that people are screen junkies as they interact with mobile devices, the overall domination of the technology through narrative is a marginal play, not a central one.

The other thing to note as Brian Eno has opined on creativity and technology – computer games and their ilk are boring. They are rule bound, highly codified genres, suitable for children under 8. Algorithmic writing and collaborative texts would have the same mimetic and stale quality as a committee report.

The second vision of the future is that nothing is new; it’s a rehash of the past. That has a remarkable degree of truth to it. We already live in a museum culture. Once, the old danger of the Impressionists is now the most popular form of art. But is it harder to be really new? In The Burden of Knowledge and the Death of the Renaissance Man: Is Innovation Getting Harder? Benjamin Jones depicts a future with a much slower evolution of knowledge. With knowledge goes creativity.

A cultural end of days has been spoken of intermittently for about a thousand years and tends to worry commentators rather than makers of culture. The eternal spin cycle of popular culture is evident but that’s business. Creating new, really new forms is going to be hard.

And the third strand to the future is that everything will combine, collide, into a mass of inter-franchise-multimedia-cross-platform brand independent of medium, whether paper or digital. In the big media world that is already on us. It may become more rampant, or it may stumble, as it collapses under its own economic weight. The risk is still an entity even spread over many channels and platforms. The implication is that culture is homogenized with this power of mega properties. Possibly, but it was more homogenized when society all read the Bible and knew and shared in the same lessons. Fragmentation has been a major force in the last thirty years. Yes, the major blockbuster is significant but not at the exclusion of other types of work, which can be fond faster and easier than ever.

Two common problems affect forecasting – a tendency to simple factor forecasts that miss the interconnections that occur, the unexpected; and secondly, a human frailty to project the last best evidence we have. Consequently forecasts often reflect the current position.

If the future still makes you worry, take a Pepto-Bismol.

Guy Cranswick
13th August 2013

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