I am a futurist!
I’ve been thinking about the future a lot recently, so I’ve decided to throw my hat into the futurism ring. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t an easy decision. Nevertheless I think it’s the right one.
It all started with fretting over the present. Things seem to be unraveling, and I spend at quite some time each day worrying about stuff like our country’s oligarchy problem, our racist policing and justice systems, and the overall lack of good middle class jobs.
So far that’s just a list of our present woes, but any plan to address them needs to incorporate a hopeful plan for the future, right? So naturally I decided to look into “futurism,” which attempts to anticipate and guide our future plans.
Here’s the thing, though. As described beautifully in Rose Eveleth’s Atlantic piece, Futurism Needs More Women, the field is currently clogged with white North American men between the ages of 55 and 65 who talk optimistically about super cool future technology, and living longer, and uploading their brains, and so on.
It’s is not a particularly appealing pool to jump in on, but here I come anyway. And, being a world class cannonballer, I’m not afraid of making a splash.
So, there’s a big problem with futurism right now, which is that, on the whole, they pretty much entirely ignore social issues, which as you’ll notice are highly entwined with my top three concerns, politics, racism, and the end of work (otherwise put: the only way to compete with robots is to become one). I plan to change futurism; I’ll be the loudmouth at the futurism conference talking about other things and how we need to plan. I’ll make this shit real. I mean, after all, why should the white guys have all the fun of deciding what the future might look like?
Before I go on, let me explain why women (so far!) have been reluctant to join the futurism movement. We remain unimpressed with their major visions so far: live forever, become one with a machine, let technology solve all social problems. Here’s why.
Living forever/ the singularity. Women get their period when they’re young, then they go through menopause when they’re old, and then they die when they’re really old. I mean, oversimplification, but whatever; the point is they are firmly tied to their aging bodies and are well aware of the ticking biological clock, and not just the one for having babies. Personally I’m 43 and even though getting my period is a messy pain, at this point I am deeply nostalgic for my youth every time it happens.
By contrast, men grow pubes at the age of 14 and nothing ever seems to change again. They might have even forgotten they ever didn’t have them. In any case men are more likely to consider the idea of putting their brains in jars – hooked up to the internet, of course – as a reasonable approximation of their current state of existence. I feel sorry for them. Being reminded of death once a month makes it impossible to be so silly. Or at least much harder.
Technophilia. Men – especially futurists – seem to love technology, and fail to cast a critical eye on anything that seems remotely “innovative.” I call this the “I win” blindspot, whereby people who are generally rewarded in a system seem to think the system must be great. After all, if you’re the one creating the surveillance software or analyzing the surveillance footage or sensor data on say, long-haul trucks, you’re getting paid really well to promote “progress.” Not so much the story for the truckers being surveilled, but whatever, I guess they should have learned to code.
I mean, that’s just one small example, but I could go on for hours. And I think women, and for that matter anyone who isn’t a successful white dude, sees both sides. That’s why we’re not jumping at the chance to join the technophiliac bandwagon.
Anyhoo, futurism is unbearably narrow at the moment, but I don’t think that should stop me. In spite of my focus on social issues, I have the credentials required to worm my way into the conversation. In fact, I have a convincing explanation for why their approach so far – into the probability of various future trends – is fatally flawed. Namely, they’ve got too few variables. They focus on technological change without taking into account human beings. So their Monte Carlo engine, if you will, of possibly futures ends up with only tweaks that they allow in their tiny little list of possibilities. I plan to add to that list. And given that they seek to influence policy as well as the individual’s forward-looking self, this list might matter.