The Future

In the late 70’s, along with Kit Laybourne, I made a PBS series about the Media called MEDIA PROBES. Each of the 8 parts dealt with a different medium: Photography, Language, TV News, Political Advertising, Sound, Design, Soap Operas, and the Future.

For the Future show I decided to look at what would happen when personal computers liked up with cable to make interactivity possible. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had predicted the internet. Now, I wish I had invested in it, rather than in a PBS TV show about it.

As I began the research for the show, I decided to look at future predictions from the past. I found some British Science Fiction written in the 1870’s, 100 years before. After all, our present was once the distant future.

There was this one story about a woman in her flat in London, cleaning up with a machine that sucked up the dirt and dust, while she listened to a concert from a box on the mantle. (Remember, this was before Edison harnessed electricity or invented the phonograph. He had already invented wax paper, however, but that is not relevant to this story.) All of a sudden, her husband flew in through the window on an anti-gravity machine, back from the colonies.

What is interesting here is that the authors had no trouble imagining the technological advances that they thought were coming, but they could not imagine a Great Britain without colonies. Often social changes are much more difficult to imagine.

How many Americans in 1909 could imagine an African American running against a woman for President of the United States? Or the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement,? Or that the Chicago Cubs would still not have won a World Series? All of it unimaginable 100 years ago.

There was another thing I learned from the researching future predictions. If you take a discrete period in history, say the Civil War, and go to the New York Public Library, you will find hundreds of books on the subject, each with their own unique interpretation of what went on during those 3 or 4 years. Most of the first hand source material information about that period has been discovered, and has been poured over by scholars. It is unlikely that any startling new information will be found about that period. Yet there are all those interpretations of what went on during those few years. So you might say that we in fact have “multiple pasts.”

There are approximately 6.2 Billion people on this planet today. If you could interview each person and ask them “What the hell is going on right now?” you might get several billion different responses about what’s going on. So, we have “multiple presents.”

However, if you ask people about the future, there is only one future: usually a utopia or a distopia, but it is a single future.

So we have multiple pasts, multiple presents, but a single future. In fact, tomorrow, next week, next year, next decade, next millennium, will each have multiple presents.

The one thing I can say for sure is that humans will be human. They will not become one thing. They will continue to act like humans: beautiful, cruel, compassionate, sloppy, greedy, slothful, artistic, expansive, contractive, destructive, and creative and loving as they are today.

© Mickey Lemle 2009