The Future Is Now

Image used under a Creative Commons license courtesy of amika_san.

So, recently I’ve had a number of experiences where folks have inferred from my pop culture references that I’m, um, old.  I know this isn’t true, exactly–anyone who thinks having seen Contact in theaters makes one ancient is themselves so young to practically be fetal.  But I was a little freaked out this weekend when I checked and realized that Ghost in the Shell is fifteen years old, and The Matrix, at 11, is old enough to be enrolled in middle school.

I don’t know why that fairly obvious realization felt so strange to me.  Maybe because this was the first time I’ve watched Ghost since going to, in particular, Shanghai and Cambodia, and the extent to which folks are living in this imagined future is incredibly striking.  A world in which even folks living in slums have access to connective technology like cell phones and reasonably fast internet access came about incredibly quickly, even if we’re not yet at the point where even the super-rich are regularly cybernetically enhancing themselves.

And the real world aside, even though moviemakers have figured out how to render these sophisticated worlds better, I’m not sure our ideas of the future have really advanced that far beyond some of these mid-to-late-nineties ideas, at least not in art that’s gained a reasonable toehold in popular culture.  The big, bad fighting suits from Avatar?  They’re less ambitious in scope than the Evangelions from the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise.  The idea of mechanical enhancement leading to either parasitism upon us or the loss of soul?  It’s been freaking us out for mass consumption since the Borg’s first appearance in 1989, and to a lesser extent in the form of Darth Vader since even earlier.  What about intelligence spawned in the vast sea of computerized information?  HAL 9000 is probably the first major mass-market example of this idea, in 1968, but I admit I’m partial to Jane from Orson Scott Card’s 1986 novel Speaker for the Dead.  Has the future started advancing so quickly that it freaked us out, pushed us up against the limits of what we wanted to imagine?

I’m not clear on all of this.  It’s a set of ideas I’m still very much thinking through.  But I do wonder if the rise of paranormal romance, like Twilight, and our fascination with superheroes who originated in earlier eras represents a turning away from futurism.