I’ve spent much of my life waiting for the future to happen, yet it never really felt like we were there. And then, in this past year, it’s become almost instantly and impossible to deny that we are now all, magically and collectively, living in that far-off place we once called the future — and we all know we’re inside it, too. It’s here, and it feels odd. It feels like that magical moment when someone has pulled a practical joke on you but you haven’t quite realised it yet. We keep on waiting for the reveal but the reveal is never going to happen. The reveal is always going to be imminent but it will never quite happen. That’s the future.
What was it that pulled us out of the present and dumped us in this future? Too much change too quickly? One too many friends showing us a cool new app that costs 99 cents and eliminates thousands of jobs in what remains of the industrial heartlands? Maybe it was too much freakish weather that put us in the future. Or maybe it was texting almost entirely replacing speaking on the phone. Or maybe it was Angelina Jolie’s pre-emptive mastectomy. Or maybe it was an adolescent comedy about North Korea almost triggering nuclear war — as well as incidentally revealing Sony’s thinking on Angelina Jolie. Or maybe it was Charlie. How odd that much of what defines the future is the forced realisation that there are many people who don’t want a future and who don’t want the future. They want eternity.
I feel like I’m in the future when I see something cool and the lag time between seeing something cool and reaching for my iPhone camera is down to about two seconds as opposed to 30 seconds a few years back. I feel like I’m in the future whenever I look for images of things online and half the images I see are watermarked and for sale. I feel like I’m in the future when I daydream of bingeing on season three of House of Cards on my new laptop that weighs nothing, never overheats and its battery goes on for ages.
How long is this sensation of futurity going to last? Is it temporary? Maybe society will go through a spontaneous technological lull allowing the insides of our brains to take a time holiday and feel like they’re in 1995, not 2015. But to be practical, that’s probably not going to happen. Ever. Ever.
Is it healthy to live in the future? I suspect not. Our ancestors lived in caves and had no concept of improving one’s life. We’re not really built for permanent high-speed change — accelerated acceleration. So then, will there come a collective cracking point? And if so, what would a collective cracking point look like? It might not even be a collective political social gesture like a riot or a referendum. It might be that we all wake up one morning and realise we’re not middle class or working class or anything . . . we basically just exist and the internet makes it bearable.
Someone asked me last week, “In the long run, is technology our saviour or our demise?” I thought it over, and the thing is, we made technology. It is only an expression of our humanity, so it’s wrong to think of it as something given to us by aliens — and then we can blame technology, not ourselves, when something goes wrong. The question that was really asked was, “Are humans going to kill themselves?” The answer would be the exact same answer that would be given 10 years ago, 2,000 years ago or 1,000 years in the future. We’re still around, so the answer is no, we’re not, but this still doesn’t change the fact that we’re now stuck living inside the future where we’re stuck worrying about this question for all of our waking hours.
How much futurosity can our brains accept before they explode or implode? I wonder if maybe the sensation of futurosity is a mental tick applicable only to people born before a certain window in time closed, a state of mind specific to remembering a world that once possessed a present tense. Millennials are lucky in that they have nothing to shed, nothing to trigger tristesse, nothing to unlearn. For a recent museum show, I made T-shirts that read I MISS MY PRE-INTERNET BRAIN. We photographed them on 17-year-old models and everybody had a good laugh.
I try to imagine a world without a present tense — the millennial world where time is a perpetual five seconds from now — and, if I squint my brain (for lack of a better analogy), I can almost sort of get it right. I suspect that abandoning one’s pre-internet brain is the only intelligent adaptive strategy necessary for mental health in the world of a perpetual future. Pioneers crossing North America left behind them a trail of abandoned pianos, sofas and wooden dressers, always shedding weight as they progressed towards what they knew to be their inevitable destiny. I remember reading once of the pioneers trapped in a forest fire, lying submerged in a swamp breathing air through reeds, while what remained of their past went up in ashes. That’s what I feel like right now, submerged in the mud, waiting for the fire to pass, waiting to emerge into a world that is lighter, fantastically different and quite possibly starting over from scratch.
Douglas Coupland’s most recent book is a non-fiction title, ‘The Age of Earthquakes’, published by Penguin. Twitter @dougcoupland
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