In the midst of boundless, post-World War II, golly gee whiz American optimism, the kind of optimism that can only exist when you’ve participated in a world war and found yourself with zero bomb craters to dig out of in your own country, “the future” became increasingly viewed through the pop culture lens of science fiction, and science fiction had became the stuff of boy’s adventure stories. The popular conception of the future was one of outer space tamed by square jawed, buzz cut, All-American quarterbacks, paving the way for the wife, kids, and family dog to don space helmets and eat hamburgers and French fries in capsule form. (So, basically, the Jetsons.) In any case, the concept of the future was a fantastically convenient version of the dominant culture.
Once the social unrest of the 60s gave way to the beaten down cynicism of the 70s, we got notions of the future that suggested things might be messier and more complicated than astro-sundaes. Even with the advent of game changing variants on the form like cyberpunk and tech noir, the overall concept of the future would remain, essentially the same: a more convenient version of contemporary life. The catch was, things would be more advanced, but worse, since humanity wasn’t developing at the same rate as its technology.
Here we are today, in what is unquestionably “the future.” There’s a temptation to brand it a disappointment because we’re lacking some of the big ticket items from past generations’ imaginations, mostly flying cars and ‘Back To the Future’ style hoverboards. The reality is, we have things that by any reasonable standard wildly exceed even the fever dreams of what people once thought possible. We carry around what amounts to a magic box that knows and does almost everything, as a part of daily life. Let’s just say you break your magic box, trying to take a picture of a rat carrying food, you can just buy a new one. They aren’t remotely rare or difficult to acquire. Yet, everything still seems so mundane.
Maybe all those different versions of the future that are slight variations on what we’re doing now don’t represent a limited imagination. Maybe they represent a larger truth about the human condition: that we all pretty much do the same pointless stuff for however long we’re here, and we just make do with whatever amusements are available to us.
Buyer beware indeed.
Photography: Mikey Janey
Talent: Daniel Smelansky, Raheem Hurcule