I am a huge sci-fi fan, I love to imagine the future of technology, space and humanity along with the visuals of that which we cannot yet imagine. The genre of describing the progression of time is well explored by scientists, artists, and philosophers – and I find it really useful to consume it.
But I believe our visions of the future are still limited. The culture I am exposed to in my generation seems to be one dominated by hopelessness. An endless fatalism that we’re headed in the wrong direction, and it’s already too late to change course. It is a reaction to our frustrations with each other – of feeling like there are so many people who do not think of the world the way we do, and are gravely misled because of it.
We feel small in the face of the power structures of our days – the resources for dignity, security, and peace are ever moving away from us, no matter the efforts we put in to become more efficient and robotic labourers.
Our social culture changes quickly, and we have a tendency to view these changes as mistakes, they are not what we grew up with – and we know that they will not grow the next generation into what we are or what we wish we were. The future is always changed by the time it becomes the present.
There are those of us that feel the world is ending, and those of us that feel it will end because people think it is. Across wide ranges of values, people tend to feel dissatisfaction with the way things are going – they are moving too quickly and not nearly quick enough. Our pace as a group is grudgingly accepted by those within it – as though the flock of birds is danced by their conflicts with each other, a seemingly coordinated movement that results from opposition and reaction.
I have not felt hope in the future since I was very young. When all I knew of the world beyond the amazon jungle I was lucky enough to grow up in was an image of fashionable women gliding around glittering cities in movies. I had hope that there were infinite worlds within one planet, that I could visit them and learn about them, and that I could contain all of these ways of being within myself. I aimed to understand the jungles: urban, rural, and wild.
The reality is that by the time I got to that glittering city, I was tired and hopeless, hungry and lonely. It taught me that sense of gritty survival – of the anonymity of masses, and it taught me that those with power are often deeply flawed, making decisions with far less thoughtfulness than I expected. I learned that progress is made as a rebellion to those before, or as an attempt to minimize a consequence from servicing greed and expansion.
Our visions of the future fuel this attitude, often describing a descent into “inhumanism” through technology, capitalistic exploitation, and a separation of human from land. Visions of Cyberpunk, Blade Runner, Foundation, Star Wars (whose artistic styles and creativity I am in awe of) profess this pessimism, this deep sadness in the glittering futures we dreamed of as kids.
“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.”
We grew up hearing we were at the end of the world, carrying the weight of our history – with seemingly no way to continue it.
Our hopelessness is an expression of the inherent corruption in structure and system, of not being able to overcome the worst in ourselves and not being able to survive the ecosystem we’re trying to escape. We are individualistic even as a collective, believing the abilities of the whole are no more than the smallest features within our own minds. We are harsh, hopeless, and disappointed.
One way to cope with this fear and fatalism is to look for the good in the bad – at least there will be flying cars, at least we will be able to touch the stars, at least we will know more about ourselves and what really matters. I followed this search for the good in a techno-capitalist future through my education as a master of applied science – I searched the complexities of physics and thermodynamics. I applied them through mechanical engineering and computational fluid dynamic simulations.
I learned to create virtual environments, to study the interactions of my own technology within their domains. I broke the permafrost soil into hundreds of thousands of points – programmed it to react and interact using the latest physics and geo-physics to understand the future of our earth.
I sat at my desk in the lab – coming in on the weekend because I was harassed out of the office during the week (an issue for another time). I watched the computational progress, saw the convergence of my solution and shook my leg with anxious anticipation as I simulated the next 40 years of climate change in the north. And I got the results: things could get worse, but we can also find ways to fix them.
While I wrote my results into a thesis, I alternated my days driving out of my city apartment to the countryside. Meeting my brother in the spring blizzards to work on our goat farm. Here I solved physical thermodynamic problems – how do we keep our newborn goats warm on this field? I built stables from wood, fences, tarp, and straw – weighting the insulation qualities of each material. I checked the wires on the electrical fence to keep coyotes from attacking one of these babies, and I warmed and stirred milk in a pot on a propane flame. I dealt with life and death, sickness, health, weather, and the predator-prey cycles.
I came home from the farm covered in poop, changing in the car before walking on the pristine, sterilized streets and elevators. It felt like going backwards and forwards in time – or the appearance of that. It felt like a movement from the simplicity of the most basic forms of life and living to the complexity of luxury, abstraction, and technology. It felt secret and separate, like I was living in two worlds.
How we rank these two occupations may explain a lot about what we value, and therefore what we want the future to be like. I felt deeply fulfilled, proud, and hardworking at my farm job – but I knew that my social credit, my intellectual respect was given only through the academic path. This preference for technology stems from our belief in its ability to save us, to propel us off of the earth, to generate more comfort and abundance from the resources of nature. We celebrate those that learn to invent, design, and compute – we are fascinated by complexity.
And I understand it. I worked equally as hard with only the effort of typing as I did when my arms and legs were sore from post-pounding. Complex problems are mentally stimulating, and the payoff of solving them is far more exciting than the calm intuition of growing and living.
When I moved to the city it felt like an escape from a slower pace of the country that scared me, from a place that didn’t seem to change at the speed I wanted to – which hurt me. But I still have a deep love for that simplicity, for the people who garden our food in spite of the way their work is treated by those that don’t.
I’ve lived on cornfields, rode motorcycles, shovelled sheep shit, and picked wild herbs. After a few years of learning the culture and language, I became a pseudo-citizen (because I was still not “from there”) of the countryside. Here too we viewed the future as technological – resisted and feared it for taking away the trees and quiet. Knowing it was already too late, using lab-made seeds and chemicals to coat the land to survive in a world that devalued our nature.
After living both views, I think we are heading towards a future we cannot know enough to fear. I believe our progress is so undecided that we are not justified in being hopeless yet. Our history has been brutal, our present is dismal, but I still believe there is potential for a good future.
I believe that we are not inherently headed towards the technological nightmare image we have been given. I believe that we will achieve greater and greater harmony with ourselves, each other, and the cycles and systems governing the movement of our universe.
We are not some great species, with a duty to advance and create a dominating legacy among the stars – we are not so self-obsessed that we must be known for the image of our individual among the largest audience, with the largest impact.
We are a force in the equation.
We are a blog on the internet ocean of information, and we are a species in the middle of the food chain, on a planet in the middle of a solar system. Our identity is more simple than we imagine our complex selves to be, we are more alike than we’re different.
And I believe our purpose is to integrate with each other and the world more smoothly. That our sense of directions be as certain as geese, that this will make flying south for the winter more simple.
To do this, our containment will have to be freed – our separation of ourselves from nature through the cementation of surfaces and sanitation of life will have to end. We will need to relearn what it feels like to have the air blow through our open homes. As I felt the Brazilian rain varnish my bedroom floor, we will need to accept the greater systems – like climate and politics – that we are operating within and among. This must accompany an understanding of the importance of life existing at lower complexity levels – to know the particles within the drop within the sea are equally as important to each other. We need to understand what those of us with the smallest audience are saying, what the children need, and what must be done to allow everyone to be equally and genuinely a part of the decision making processes of our society.
We need to be willing to look at ourselves as individuals, and individualists. And we need to learn to allow each other to grow and change our minds. To truly brainstorm a better way to live with our neighbours.
And this change is exciting. Integration with other countries feels easy AF to me. As a child, one of my greatest excitements was travelling to other places, seeing great cultural, aesthetic, and environmental differences. It challenged me to learn more, to seek for a more diverse understanding of humanity through the act of treating strangers as aunts and uncles.
When I moved to the city, I felt the thrill and great joy of living in a futuristically diverse and multicultural societies, with daunting glass structures, striking and abstract neon lighting, noise, and great food.
The belief that technology could take us onwards and upwards was ever clear to me as I carefully stepped onto the escalator the first few times to get to class. Change, newness, and the progress that we expect for the future are both scary and exciting.
Abstraction is a fundamental component in living and living well – we are not limited by instinct and intuition. But we need not overthink ourselves into a paralyzing anxiety. We are more important than we feel we are when we face thousands of applicants for a job we need to be able to get food and stay alive – and we are also less important than we think we are when we believe we have to send a Tesla flying through space, and create a gun that shoots fire.
If we can hold ourselves more equally in our mind, then we will find a greater equilibrium in our lives. Respecting ourselves and each other as both teacher and student – always. To refresh, and unthaw ourselves each spring with new understandings and wrinkles. If we can see our failures as commonly as our successes, knowing worth is inherent – then I believe we will be able to repair some of our despair.
Having hope in our future means redefining it with the confidence and assurance of someone who can never know everything, but tries nonetheless. Working with each other knowing we are always in conflict, we are always in pain and in love – and that we still belong somewhere. Then we will soften our rigid living. Speaking bravely about what we feel in our minds, sharing ideas and designs in a way that is respected and respectful of connection to each other.
Letting all people have some control and power over their lives through careers, safety, bodily-autonomy, property, and sexual liberty. Growing out of the pettiness of oppressing those that threaten us – working in coordination not competition. Being “men” enough to let others share the power.
We create collective security by working in greater balance with the conditions of our environment, resources, and colleagues in nature.
What I learned from my scientific education was that technology is a tool for understanding and interaction with our world greater to any other we have experience with yet – and that it is a catalyst for change and expansion. What I learned from my childhood in the jungle, and my goats and gardens, is that the virtual will never exist without the physical. The conditions beyond the realm of computation are equally responsible for the results of research. And we cannot have a purely mechanical future – nature is an inherent requirement for life.
We will find a way to live better together as an environment. I will imagine this and work towards it as if it were possible – since the future is not yet decided.