There are a few quirks of my personality that I can’t quite blame on outside influences. Though I could probably find a root cause somewhere in my past, probably when I was a toddler and can’t remember anything, there is generally no rational explanation I can think of. One of them is a tendency to hold myself to oddly strict rules that no one else will generally recognize or care about. In fact, even when I outright announce some of these rules I hold myself to, most people tend to forget them if given enough time – but I never do. And one of those is that every blog entry that I post to this site has to fit a certain variety of topics for specific days. It’s not iron clad, there’s always some wiggle room involved, but from time to time I’ll have a blog idea that I want to write or have already written and think, “man, that feels more like a Monday or Wednesday topic.”
It’s a little silly, but I’m often a silly man.
One of the topics I’ve allowed myself to post on Fridays is anything having to do with the future or sci-fi. At first it was because I momentarily considered calling it “Futuristic Fridays”, but then a few eyes were rolled and I realized it was a bridge too far. Still, it’s one of the approved topics for the day, and it’s ironic because a few things I’ve seen on twitter over the last few weeks and a few personal experiences have had me thinking about the future, specifically how much we as a species get freaked out about it. I’ve touched the topic before with talks about technophobia and the like, but all of the individual fears of future times really kind of root back to the same essential fear when it comes right down to it.
We don’t like uncertainty, we don’t like things beyond our control, and the future is full of both…
Haunted By Uncertainty
Though I’ve talked about facets of this before, and how optimistic I really am about where we’re going, it really is quite amazing just how much “fear of the future” acts to unify all others. There are a lot of fears that exist in the moment, like when you’re faced with a direct threat or when you’re dealing with a phobia, but fear of the future is something we all feel on some level. Whether ir be in your professional life, personal life, or on a grander stage, we all have that dislike for the things we can’t actually predict. On a technological level that fear of the future can cause us worry about the rise of automation or the potential uses of genetic modification. On the ecological level there’s fears of things like climate change, natural disasters, or extinction level events. And on a societal level, there’s recently been a whole diagnosis created for those who are afraid of the possible decisions of specific political leaders.
None of these fears are entirely invalid, but sometimes it’s easy for us to lose perspective in them. We spend so much time worrying about what we can’t control that we start to forget about the things that we can. Fear of technological advancement, for instance, has always felt like one that I think people get too caught up in and start to lose perspective on. Sure, robots can do a lot of the work we can do, and potentially better, but the idea that we would render ourselves completely obsolete has always seemed silly to me. We build robots to do tasks that we don’t want to or can’t do ourselves, it’s unlikely we’d build them to do the tasks that we find real fulfillment in. We’d have them help us, but removing ourselves from the equation seems unlikely.
I’ve seen services that offer to have an AI write a book for you, and I’ve watched people react negatively to this whenever it’s come up. But such services are novelties, done because we can and not because that’s an outcome we really desire. The robot’s there to write a novel for someone who can’t really write one. And sure, some people may become fans of robonovels, but I’ve learned from experience that a lot of people really crave a traditional experience even if a modern alternative is available. Sure, eBooks are popular and have more sales in some genres than print books, but print books didn’t die out right like so many feared only a decade ago. Newspapers have, for the most part, but those things were always more of a hassle than an experience.
Some things change, others stay the same, and a few do their best to be somewhere in the middle – retaining that nostalgic vibe while still trying to move forward.
And, while that seems like an abstraction to a lot of people, it’s really kind of fitting for most things. When you really step back from most fears of the future it finds a perspective that is generally somewhere in the middle. Yes, genetic modification will eventually be applied to humanity once the technology is fully ready. No, it won’t likely devolve into a dystopian caste system reflective of Gattaca. Yes, machines are probably going to take over our mindless tasks. No, they probably won’t render us completely obsolete because it’s unlikely we’d design them to do that. Yes, climate change is likely to impact how we live on this Earth and may end civilization as we know it if left unchecked. No, we’re not likely to see the end of all life on this planet. It’s survived five other mass extinctions, it can survive us too… in theory. There are some things we could do to turn it into a lifeless rock, but more than likely we’d disappear long before the planet hit a point of no return.
Though I’ve written on topics like these enough times that I’m sure regular readers aren’t hearing anything new here, the reason why the topic comes to mind for me today is because I’ve been finding myself worrying about it myself lately. It’s nothing too crippling, nothing that can’t be overcome, but it’s made me much more aware of the anxiety in others in the last few weeks. I’ve watched people talk about the dangers of advancement, the threat of political upheaval, and their fears of many various future crises. Though trying to keep some perspective, I have to admit I started to internalize some of it in a moment of weakness. I started to look at the work I’ve been doing in the last few months and thinking how uncertain everything appeared to be. I started to fear the future a little myself.
To my credit, part of it is that my mood tends to dip with the air quality, and I’m living within 20 minutes of a forest fire.
But I still needed to take a step back, take a deep breath, and realize just how good it is to be where we are right now. Yes, not all things are certain, but our world is a world of wonders that would have shocked people from even a century ago. I sit here typing on a machine more powerful than anything NASA had to work with when they started the space program. My life expectancy is probably twice as long as my ancestors despite the fact I’m most definitely far less active than they were. I write things at a time when more people are able to read it than any other time in human history – both because it’s easier to get it to them, and because more people are literate than there have ever been. For all the fear people have had of progress in the past, our world has steadily improved by every known metric (even if our interconnectivity may sometimes make us feel like it’s getting worse instead). Though it may not be the miraculous retro-futuristic world envisioned by people in the old scifi stories, I do live in a time that would have been seen as fantastic even a hundred years ago. And, more importantly…
Tomorrow can still be better.
(I write novels and dabble in screenplays. I’m getting pretty close to finishing some projects I’ve been working on, and I assure you, that has me terrified. But hey, follow me on twitter, and you’ll still see me doing my best.)