You’re reading this sentence on a machine has more power than entire militaries did 75 years ago. I typed this story on the exact same type of machine. A vast majority of Americans own that same type of machine, and a recent Pew poll (http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/February/Pew-Internet-Mobile.aspx) found that more than half of American adults own the smaller, high-powered version of this machine – the smartphone. Yep, technology is doing a-okay for us. Advocacy groups are making progress all over the world, people are living longer, we can make movies on our telephones – all that and so much more make it a great time to be alive.
So why are we so pessimistic about the future?
Doomsday Preppers. Melancholia. Take Shelter. The Walking Dead. Revolution. 2012. Pretty much anything with zombies, survivalism and apocalypses is extremely popular right now. We’re a people focused on doom. We relish it. Some of us (yeah, part of me is in this camp) WANT it to get apocalyptic. You know, minus the death of innocent people and all.
But it goes beyond excitement about zombie-smashing and trying to make it on your own. There’s also a cloud of nostalgia over us right now – we live for the 80s or the 60s or the 40s or the 20s. We bring stuff from the old days into the present and look fondly upon the grand epochs of years past. Perhaps no other time has been so tainted with looking back as this one. Combined with a possibly unhealthy eye on the end of the world, what does this say about us? Why are we not excited about the future?
It wasn’t always this way. The 1960’s held great hope – civil rights and the space race were at the forefront of the media and the minds of the people. New technologies excited us to no end. Microwaves? Color televisions? Pre-packaged meals wrapped in “deathplastic”?
Everything was changing, and while it brought a lot of growing pains and struggle, it also did breed true optimism. Even after Watergate, Vietnam and the dirt of the early 70s, people still looked forward, not backward.
The future was…the future.
Now, the future is the past.
How many times do you see people truly get hopeful and excited about new technologies or the direction of the world? It’s few and far between. And it’s not because things aren’t changing. Things are changing every day, many times a day. Technologies upgrade and update and “revolutionize” so often that it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Maybe that’s part of it – technology and other progress moves so rapidly that there’s no time to really feel optimistic. We expect it now. We expect big improvements all the time or else we get angry. How dare the new iPhone not have a new feature that will solve my emotional unavailability!
Still, that’s not enough reason for us to be as pessimistic as we are. Yes, the economy. Yes, wars. Yes, overpopulation. Yes, assholes on the freeway. But human beings have had darker times. World War II? We thought the entire world would be taken over by a megalomaniacal dictator. Not to mention we were just pulling out of an economic depression so devastating that entire areas of the country became dust.
How about World War I? Not only was it the first mechanized war, which killed millions of people and broke the minds and spirits of some of the finest men and women of the era, it also coincided with the Spanish Flu. Yes, a flu that infected a half-billion (with a “b,” folks) people in two years. That’s like a United States population and a half.
Or the Civil War when opposing Americans bled each other out on battlefields instead of ripping each other up on talk shows. Or the Black Death. Self-explanatory.
The point is, human beings have had darker times. The apocalypse has been imminent since we had the fear and wherewithal to make up that word. It’s narcissistic to think we’re the ones who get to have an apocalypse. I’m selfish to think it and I’m selfish to want it at all.
So let’s make something new and stop looking back quite so much. There’s nothing that says we can’t appreciate our roots and what came before us but still be excited about what lies ahead. The future could be great. We just need to believe it and work on it.
Especially looking forward to future shirts and space spaghetti.
Bennett Rea is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, CA. A survivalist with various primitive skills and a distrust of Snapchat, he’s just trying to be a human in an increasingly technological world. He also works at an art gallery on one of the country’s trendiest retail blocks and constantly battles the urge to flee for a cabin in the mountains filled with books and bourbon.