The future of the past

Posted 05.30.15

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | We can remember the grand promises when we were in high school from experts studying the future -- flying cars, housework robots, world peace through better education, and, especially, the end of labour. Our leisure lives were supposed to steadily grow, leaving us with decisions not about careers but about filling up those leisure hours. With robots taking over manual labour and electronics providing all capabilities, the future indeed looked like a big vacation.

Today's experts are telling us the solutions to a life of labour are all digital and wireless, but with the same background: us in a hammock, super-vehicles on the ready, a joystick in our hands.

It's easy to smile at these predictions, so many are off-the-wall even to geeks. Yet we now are living this life of abundance and ease today. You disagree? Go back two generations and compare life with your great-grandparents'. Our life is easy, even if it is more frantic than futurologists predicted. We are living lives of abundance, but with a table full of household bills that would terrify our grandparents.

Abundance, yes, but no flying cars and no job-free careers -- and what a good thing these predictions have not come true. Imagine the chaos in the air if cars could be driven anywhere in the sky? And the statistics tell us -- ones from the US, at least, since our own grandfather-era government no longer collects much in stats -- that we are working more hours than ever before -- and that most wages and salaries have not increased since the mid-1970s. (Excepting bankers and their crowd.)

We are working harder than ever, not less. Both parents of most families work. Retirement edges further away, and contract jobs replace careers. There's no work-less career in our futures -- but maybe that's a good thing.

Think about how humanity has dealt with idle time over the centuries. Not a great record. Into a future made magnificent by science, technology, and better education, humanity has embraced even stupider religious doctrines -- jihadists of all brands, I’m talking to you! -- even ridiculous views of unsustainable yet undiminished economic growth.

We want to drown in consumer goods. Shopping becomes a past-time, becomes a substitute for exploring our internal lives in this brave new world. Humanity has sent cameras to Mercury, and beyond the solar system, but here we are bombing, drone-killing, and jailing others, often only for their religious and personal choices. Those choices are often unbelievable. Stupidity, today armed with the greatest gadgetry: there's a view of the future the experts were keeping to themselves.

It's our future. If we want unending rewards for doing nothing at all, we might remember the saying, with one word changed, "you only get what you work for."

We are at the future predicted for us. And it's cock-eyed. Isn't there a lesson here?


Copyright © 2015 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/05.15