Future Shock 2013?

The recession has been dominating my thoughts recently. I have not been financially impacted by the recession. I do not claim the experience of the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by food and fuel poverty, rising accommodation costs and fewer and fewer jobs. My experience of the recession is a discordant musak; setting a visceral tone; dominating the environment. I find myself listening to the news less and less; the closure of this or that company feels like a standing agenda item. Shop closures are normal, it took me an hour of wandering around on a recent visit to Cambridge to work out what was so strange; they were all open.

I am struck by parallels with the 1973-5  UK recession. An energy crisis, pitched battles between public sector and government and a cultural sense of other world-ism (think I may have made that expression up.) Britain struggled to adapt to the new world order and stumbled around punch-drunk and disorientated like a gin soaked ex-pat. Whilst the bin bags stockpiled, Bowie took stock and decided to contemplate life on Mars; they flocked to join him- couldn’t be worse than a night getting lost amongst the bin bags.

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We are not yet at the point of a three day week but with energy costs projected to rise by 36% over three years this time our switch off may be voluntary. I find it fascinating how people perceived the future in the early 70’s. Classically, predictions either focus on mind-bending new technologies or intense pessimism. In 1973 James Burke predicted 1993 and the Audioboo is eye opening: https://audioboo.fm/boos/1574606-james-burke-predicted-the-future-in-1973-now-he-does-it-again. Predictions included the proliferation of computer technology (as many as 300,000 terminals by 1993!) the end of chalk and talk in schools, IVF, greater acceptance of usage of personal data except take up of identity cards. His predictions were set in the midst of the Cold War when paranoia about totalitarianism were rife. He also predicted there would be no need for government and that we would prefer to live in small self-sufficient communities. 1975 saw the creation of TV programmes like Doomwatch and Survivors – both of which focused on a 28 days later post-apocalyptic world. One the one hand the future was disaggregated, smaller and more primitive on the other technology was irrepressibly on the rise; more often than not this was thought to be a threat. 

Fast forward forty years and the technical ability to connect has never been greater. We can find people with similar interests within seconds, irrespective of geography or language. We can all be journalists within a few clicks. Digital boundaries are fast and fluid and yet all the underlying tensions of atomisation and macro level events being somehow out of our control still exist. Where self-sufficiency was predicted, if anything many of us are more consumerist and dependent. Unlike Ted Heath’s struggles in the early 70’s the debate is no longer a national one. The world has become economically globalised; the 99% represent a majority in number only.

The title of this blog came from the Alvin Toffler book; subsequently converted to film in 1972. There is a version on YouTube (the sound quality does improve) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ghzomm15yE  Orson Wells tells us at the start of the film that Future Shock occurs when too much change happens too fast “The feeling that nothing is permanent anymore… the premature arrival of the future. Choice and over-choice….” If you feel the full fear of Future Shock you may well believe consumerism  is hanging around on your street corner waiting to beat you up if you don’t buy the latest Raleigh Chopper!

Future Shock is effectively a eulogy for connection. Connection is the only means I can think of by which we cease to be passengers; “a witness to the slit wrist.” In this regard the 99% have it sussed. Brené Brown is a wonderful speaker and insightful human. “The one thing that keeps us from being connected is our fear that we are not worthy of it.” http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html I wonder if rather than (like me) musing on alienation, exclusion and lack of ability to influence, it is time to stop being shocked by the future. It may be an idea to ask questions about how we build the connections to drive positive change. The status quo feels like a design by committee that no-one asked for. I, for one, would be delighted to turn the musak off. 

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