Why today is not the future

In The First Decade of the Future is Behind Us by Kyle Munkitrick for Discover magazine, he ask the question, are we in the future yet? He makes some good arguments:

Can we finally admit we live in the future?…Thanks to a combination of 3G internet, a touch-screen interface, and Wikipedia, the smartphone in my front pocket is pretty much the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I can communicate with anyone anywhere at anytime…and then use the same touch-screen device to take a picture, deposit a check, and navigate the subway system. We live in the future, ladies and gentleman.

Having studied the idea of the future, I had two responses:

1. The future is a safe place we never want to believe is now.  Something in our psychology likes to long for things. This includes the afterlife, the faith that the next raise will make us happy, or that when we lose 10lbs we’ll feel good about ourselves. The better future is a form of projection we need. In the present we need to believe something better awaits. You don’t need an iPhone to recognize how amazing the present is. Study the history of civil rights, personal wealth, or opportunity in America, and you’ll find much to be amazed about. We take most progress  for granted.

2.  Technological progress is not social progress. Are there fewer assholes in the world? Is there less greed? Do more people follow the Golden Rule? Technologies focus on a narrow aspect of progress, one we are good at. It’s the other kinds of progress that are harder to develop. If the only elements of a better future are improved technologies, prepare to be disappointed. Many things do not change with technology.

6 Responses to “Why today is not the future”

  1. Sean Crawford

    Back in Mark Twain’s time people believed it practical jokes that to us would be too cruel. So I think there has been progress.

    If Twain’s work lacks such humour it is not that he was trying to write classic stuff, but that he was ahead of his time. I seem to recall Twain once suggested that civilization was finally achieved when people outlawed slavery.

  2. Bo Tian

    Excellent post. There’s a correction, from “next raise will make use happy”, it should be “us” instead.

  3. Mike

    Good points. However believing that the future is now is kind of a scary idea – kind of like Major Tom: “Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing left to do.” Looking toward the future keeps us driven.



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