As someone who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, I can verify the myth that some people seriously believed that “the future” (romantically thought to be any time later than the year 2000) would include such fantastic things as flying cars (Meet George Jetson), wrist-phones (like Dick Tracy) and widespread leisure. As far back as the mid 1940s, others like George Orwell, had a darker vision of the future, imagining such horrors as the ravages of perpetual war, widespread poverty, and the Thought Police.
For those of us a bit older than 30, hmmm OK, let’s just say 40, the “Future” has arrived. As fantastic as science fiction tends to be, the genre nonetheless represents a pretty good historical record of what our society’s hopes and fears were at some point in the distant past. As with all history, this too serves as a useful reference point, pointedly asking the question, “whose vision of the future was more accurate?”
Without engaging in an exhaustive review of key works, it might be generally true to suggest that many futuristic hopes have been at least partly realized and, perhaps, as many fears. We’ve not graduated to flying cars, of course, but we have these nifty iPhones and the Internet. We are living and working longer and only have those crude robots for cleaning the floors (none at all bringing us the cocktails we now believe are bad, bad, bad).
We’ve avoided another World War, so far, at the expense of a more-or-less continual, low-to-medium-grade conflict fever. Technological innovation hasn’t magically reduced our work load and, instead, has saturated us with miasmatic infotainment and invited constant, ostensibly benign, snooping and monitoring into our lives. Big brother has grown bigger, but hasn’t yet started sending (most of) the misfits out for re-education or gassing.
Of those Orwellian fears, however, perhaps the most frightening to me was (and is) the concept of “DoubleThink“, the (state promoted) condition in which people learned to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously while accepting both. As runners-up, Orwell’s notions of the constant re-writing of history and “groupthink” effectively completed the totalitarian trifecta.
Without dismissing the real benefits of modern life out of hand, I trust that any “reasonable” observer of our times will recognize the temptations posed by, if not the growing reliance on, these troubling steps toward societal insanity. To the extent that we lose (or fail to value) our fixed points of reference, we risk “enjoying” these longer lives in a state of utter delusion and moral destitution, however, happily and blissfully ignorant. To some, that may sound like nirvana, to me – not so much.
Hold to the truth.
“I know that this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious! Ignorance is bliss.” – Cypher, The Matrix