The future is bright and vaguely sinister

Tonight I’ve been doing some research into what the world might look like in 100 years time, and the vision I’m left with is both exciting and a little terrifying. Is it naive to hope for a future that ends up looking more like Star Trek than 1984?

Science fiction has become incredibly pessimistic. It seems that if we develop advanced technology, we abuse it. If we come across alien civilisations, it immediately results in war and enslavement. We create artificial intelligence and it tries to destroy us. Freedoms will erode, nature will be destroyed beyond repair and governments will sink into ever deeper pits of corruption. There’s so little hope or optimism in our visions of the future.

And it isn’t surprising. Humanity is clever and we are developing technology at an astonishing rate. A future in which every aspect of your life is networked, where you are connected 24/7 via an interface that can be incorporated into your body, where every moment of your social and physical life can potentially be monitored and indexed, is not only possible but plausible.

But humanity has issues with morality. Issues which are far from being solved. It’s part of the fabric of our society, part of our history, part of our present. We’re all aware that people can do terrible things. Especially when group mentality overrides the morals of the individual. Especially when governments and institutions are given significant power without accountability. So what happens when our technology advances enough to allow for the constant surveillance of the populace?  Can we handle it without completely destroying the principles of personal freedom and responsibility? If our popular fiction is any indication, most of us strongly doubt it.

I’m no different. I’m writing a science-fiction story about invasive tech and a pervasively networked society called Not Compatible. It is not shaping up to be an optimistic version of the future.

But surely there can be. Surely there’s still room for a little faith in the inherent goodness of humanity, utopia over dystopia. Maybe it’s time for a renaissance in optimistic sci-fi. We can’t all be cynics, can we?

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6 responses to “The future is bright and vaguely sinister

    • I think it’s a tad more complex than positive vs. negative — science fiction not only highlights future issues (social, technological) but can also be a commentary on the present. And, if we live in a fearful present (as we do now — just look at the apocalyptical tinged world view of so many — “economic disaster! perversion of morals! the end of society as we know it!”) we tend to project this in the future. Hence, why pulp science fiction 20s-40s/50s is generally so positive because the same fears weren’t present…. Science fiction like Star Trek and Star Wars etc. was purposeful attempts to channel this unbridled (and in my opinion absolutely unrealistic ;)) optimism…

      • I absolutely agree that fiction set in different eras, futuristic or historical, is almost always a reflection on the writer’s present. But the present is always fearful. They may not have had exactly the same fears as we do in the past, but they definitely had worries and concerns about where society might be headed. We’re human, it’s what we do. Practically every generation has firmly believed that they are witnessing a catastrophic decline in moral and societal values, and it always triggers unrealistic nostalgia for a rose-tinged and just-as-flawed past.
        Unbridled optimism is always unrealistic, whether it’s directed at the past or the future, but if there is anywhere it can be appropriately directed I think it’s the stories we tell about where we are and where we could go. At its best and most hopeful, science-fiction can convince us of what we’re capable of achieving and inspire us to try and be better. And trying to be better, in the end, is what matters.

      • Of course. But there are some eras that are more fearful than others. Yes, everyone still has fears but a good economic environment will create more optimism…

        I’m more interested in science fiction that is thought provoking, well-written, inventive, (and dare I say, literary) than anything else — if that means a bleak future, ok, if that means a more positive future, that’s fine as well…

      • I don’t dislike pessimistic fiction. In fact, as I wrote in my original post, I’m in the process of writing a story about a dystopic society. Some of my favourite pieces of literature are incredibly bleak. I was just speculating on why cynicism, including my own, so heavily outweighs hope in speculative fiction and whether it has to be that way. I don’t think it does, a balance can be achieved.

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