I don’t believe in the future.
Future thinkers are charlatans. No future thinker from Nostradamus to Noah Yuval has ever, or will ever, predict the future. Our current generation of “thought leaders” about the future are shills. They tell us what “disruptive” technology lies ahead and how we can better adapt to the fantastical world they present. They are hoping we don’t notice that they are selling us lies. That old lie about progress. That old lie about inevitable. That old lie that buying something will make the future better.
I don’t believe in text messages. I don’t believe in apps. I don’t believe in the pedagogy of the open plan integrated BYOD classroom. I don’t believe in AI. None of these things matter. None of these things make me happy, or will make other people happy. Nor will it solve injustice and inequity. Quite the opposite. It will exacerbate injustice and inequity.
You know what I miss most about my past? Time. The time we had for each other.
Someone said somewhere that attention is love.
In the past I remember reading the Usborne Book of the Future. One thing it talked about was increased leisure time. There was going to be a lot of it in the future. Because computers. It turns out that devices don’t give you more time. Devices mean your work is always with you. They mean you don’t need to talk to friends you can flick them a text. You don’t need to text friends you can push “like”.
I walk to work. Sometimes I catch the bus. At bus stops or on the bus about 75% of people are looking at their phones. How many of those people could tell you what they had read 24 hours later? I listen to music. I read books. Kindle means you can’t lend people books. Streaming means you can’t give people mix tapes. The glut of availability and the flick of a thumb means people scroll from one half finished song to one half finished article to another and – in the age of sharing – they can’t share. Not really. Not a precious book, or CD. Just soundbites.
All of this discourages love for words and songs. It makes our relationship to culture cheap and transitory.
Sometimes when I meet people now I feel like I am just being slotted in. Scheduled between competing demands generated by modern life’s determination to “do things”. A determination which is enabled by the ubiquitous update and notification. Am I a schedule point on a calendar? Once we’ve talked can you tick me off your list? Did we get through the agenda items?
As with all efforts to make people conform, saying things like I have said is generally greeted with laughter. It’s a great tool to keep people in line is laughter. The next best is to call people old. Try it out. Try rejecting technology, attacking i-phones, and talking about disciplinary knowledge. People think you’re an old fogey. Or they laugh at you. It doesn’t concern me too much because I am incredibly self-absorbed.
When I see the people on the buses I know that what is happening there is not healthy. I see students in classes who cannot pull themselves away from a screen for longer than ten minutes. Who are so absorbed by the micro hits of satisfaction from likes, and comments and notifications that they would rather be doing anything else – ANYTHING else – than listen to another human being, right in front of them, talk about something personal and directly relevant to their lives.
In the West we have a long tradition of confusing the word “future” with the word “better”. (Also, space. And silver jumpsuits.) Sometimes people talk about the future as “different” (there will be driverless car, there will no such thing as school) but this leads to why that will be “better” (no accidents, no school). It’s polite to give a cursory mention to possible speed bumps – thousands of low-skilled people put out of work by driverless vehicles – but this tends to be spun as an opportunity for those people to do something new before the presenter moves on to the final act: setting off the alarm bells for the middle class parents: “what is your school doing to prevent your children ending up as an off cast of modernity?”
The best answer would be: preparing them to be good human beings. Happy. Healthy. Thoughtful. Empathetic. Critical. Curious. Saying things like literate and numerate is redundant. Of course they should literate and numerate. And after that?
But no. We get jobs training. Because most jobs are now about sitting at a computer schools are called on to train people to sit in offices, and have meetings. Schools disguise this by saying they are teaching communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. This sounds good, but it is essentially the education sector creating what Silicon Valley wants in its future employees and not what will make people: happy, healthy, thoughtful, empathetic, critical and curious. An awful lot of school project work now looks like dry runs for future pitches at corporate events.
I worry. People have their minds on the run all the time. Even when I am with them their mind is elsewhere. Their phone needs to be checked. Their computer is open. Their mind is planning ahead. Could I not be there at all?
Should I slip out the door?
Should I send a text?
You can send me back an emoji.
Let’s catch up. Some day.
In the future.