Why does the future they imagined smell like a dream of the past?

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What times in human history have been "normal"? Well, first, it's essential to state that we often tend to forget that these times may seem unsettling and moody, since we are children of its nearest past and especially of its furthest history - the twentieth century. Suppose you feel giddiness, stress, or anxiety due to the simple and wonderful fact that you are alive. In that case, I will not comfort you by stating that the feeling is shared because you probably already know it, and that is precisely the problem.

Born in the Reagan-Thatcher era, my generation grew up within the rents of a welfare society that nurtured the aspirations of prosperity and growth that did not recognize its limitations. Although that generation can already feel its cracks, the generations immediately following them began to feel the "glitches in the matrix," becoming victims of a planned system of chronic, staggering, and demoralizing socioeconomic crises that are interconnected from 2008 to today (except for the pandemic). And by that, I mean we were already on this path long before the new virus appeared in our lives. We lived embedded and immersed in a socioeconomic system that devoured affection, while simultaneously producing other effects such as depression, insecurity, anomie, and existential pain.

The Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman noted in the late 1900s that after the decades of continuous and flourishing development that followed World War II, the same developmental inertia that resulted from scientific and technological faith, market liberalization, and globalization has now failed. Thus, we can compare this to a pleasant dream that turns into a nightmare right before your eyes. In our case, this train began to derail a while ago. The problem is that it kept going and moving faster and faster.

There is no way to slow it down. At the same time, most passengers can't notice that it is no longer on the tracks because they are just glancing out the windows.

All of the above and many other factors are leading human beings to detach themselves from what used to bind us together as a society. As a result, we are no longer moving into a stable society. Still, we try to do it in a fluid, stretchy, too-slippery community, whereby the possibility of achieving profitable and accurate modernity is slipping through our fingers like water. Everything solid evaporates in the air.

And finally, we come to the current point of disillusionment. The science fiction works of the 1980s' cyberpunk literature began suggesting possible dystopic paths that society would take in the future. However, the reality shock numbs us to reveal that we already live in this alternative future (to us, present). Although we have normalized it, it is no less unsettling once we think about it.

These futuristic novels theorized about an out-of-control technological stage in which its advances are as disturbing as invasive. We talk about a society in which traditional institutions can no longer bring about change and have relinquished their power in favor of large corporations.

Cities are mousetraps where their inhabitants live poorly. In the midst of all this, a corrupted alliance has begun to develop between the technological world and the world of organized dissidence. The Cyberpunk movement no longer believes in the idea of progress or in the emancipatory capacities associated with technological development, nor considers a way out or an alternative to it. The motto of these no-timers is: no future.

Along these lines, can we separate this movement from its context: a world clustered around two opposing sides capable of destroying each other and thus the entire planet. The Cold War created a well-founded fear of nuclear apocalypse. Sheer self-destruction challenged the very idea of human progress and its "raison d'être" in this world. The only criterion that could prevail in this environment was one's own. The ability of a single individual to destroy everything has individualized us, while the only response that could be attempted could only be a collective one.

In the futurism of the past, we were promised that flying cars would invade our streets. Yet, we have battery-powered scooters which at least have colored lights. Well, at least, these scooters rely on the competence of the people driving them to avoid an accident.

The revolution came with the Internet and its ceaseless application in unsuspected (and often suspicious) areas. But strangely, in these cyber times, we are falling prey to longing for the future that will never come. Instead, we are embracing the past: hence the trends of Stranger Things, vintage clothing, or Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia. In this case, Bauman nailed it when he spoke of "Retrotopia."

The present generation is being assailed by this apparent nostalgia for the future, which may be nothing more than a sentimental feeling for a futuristic past that we didn't live. What this generation thought was the future was, in reality, nothing more than a contemptuous love letter to a society that has now ultimately failed them. But let's not fool ourselves. The only thing we can learn from the past (and that would be way more than enough) comes from our very own experiences, and, in fact, the future that lies ahead does not exist. Let's put this into perspective: We can say that it is half outlined, almost delineated, but it is definitely not written in the stars. However, allow me to say that our future is now on the right path due to our past actions.

But I insist, there is hope. The game is not entirely lost - it never is - because humans came into this world to play in this continuous and imperfect present that we have had to suffer and enjoy. With this inherited arrangement of pieces on the board and many of the cards held in our hands, we can undoubtedly affirm that not everything has been decided yet. As individuals and societies with the ability and naturalness to cooperate, we can still do almost anything we set our minds to do. That is our good fortune. And partly also our curse.

About the Author

Javier Terrádez

Journalist and content creator.

August 24, 2021 — Javier Terrádez

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