Why does the future they imagined smell like a dream of the past?
That we live in strange times is something that never surprised anyone.
What times in human history were normal? The current ones, as children of their nearer past and above all -and this is something we tend to forget- of their more "distant" past -the 20th century-, may be unsettling and capricious. If, by the simple and miraculous fact of living, you feel vertigo, stress or anxiety, I won't console you by discovering that the feeling is shared because you probably already know it, and that's precisely the problem.
Whereas my generation - I was born in the Reagan/Thatcher era - grew up amidst the rents of a welfare society that nurtured a yearning for prosperity and growth that knew no bounds. Although this generation could already sense its cracks, those immediately after it were already beginning to feel "failures in the Matrix", being the propitiatory victims of the "Matrix". victims of a planned system, with chronic, stupefying and demoralizing socio-economic crises that have been linked from 2008 to the present. Pandemic apart. And by this I mean that we were already like this before the new virus appeared in our lives, we lived inserted and immersed in a socio-economic system that devours the affections while precipitating effects such as depression, uncertainty, anomie and existential pain itself.
As the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman pointed out on the threshold of the 21st century, after the decades of continuous and prosperous development that followed the Second World War, this same developmental inertia derived in scientific-technological faith and the opening of markets and globalisation, failed. Like the pleasant dream that turns into a nightmare before our eyes, that train began to derail but without ceasing to move forward, even faster if possible.
The ability to slow it down is non-existent, while many of the passengers remain unaware that it is no longer moving on rails, believing they are enjoying the views offered by the windows.
All of this, together with many other factors, is leading human beings to separate themselves from what used to keep them united to society. He is therefore moving from moving in a solid society to trying to do so in a liquid, ductile, too slippery society, making the possibility of achieving a profitable and true modernity slip through our fingers like water through our fingers. Everything solid evaporates into thin air.
And we arrive at the current point of disenchantment. If the sci-fi works of cyberpunk literature of the 80's began to point out possible routes along which society would be heading, the blow of reality stuns us to reveal that we already live in that alternative future (present for us) and that despite having normalised it, it is no less unsettling if we reflect on it.
Those prospective novels theorized about a technological stage out of control, where its advances are as disturbing as they are invasive. A society in which traditional institutions no longer have the capacity to act for change and have ceded their power in favour of large corporations.
The cities are mousetraps where their inhabitants live badly. Among all of the above, a debased alliance between the technological world and the world of organized dissidence is beginning to take shape. Cyberpunk no longer believes in the idea of progress or in the emancipatory capacities associated with technological development, nor do they believe that there is an escape or that an alternative can be proposed. The slogan of these non-times is no future.
Nor can we separate this movement from its context, a world positioned around two opposing blocs with the capacity to destroy each other and by extension, endangering the entire planet. The Cold War installed a well-founded fear of a nuclear apocalypse. Pure and simple self-destruction that questioned the very idea of human progress and its raison d'être in this world. In this environment, the only criterion that could prevail was one's own, the capacity of a single individual to destroy everything has individualised us, when the only response that could be attempted could only be collective.
In the futurism of the past we were promised that flying cars would invade our streets, and yet we have to make do with battery-powered scooters - which at least have coloured lights - relying on the expertise of the people driving them to avoid having an accident.
The revolution came with the internet and its incessant application in unsuspected (and often suspicious) areas. But curiously in these cybertimes we fall into longing for that future that never came, embracing the past: hence the fashions of Stranger Things, vintage clothing or Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia. Bauman nailed it when he talked about Retrotopia.
The current generation is invaded by this apparent nostalgia for the future, which is possibly nothing more than a sentimental feeling of a futuristic past not lived. Of something that was believed to be the future and was nothing more than a scornful love letter to a society that had disillusioned it. But let's not deceive ourselves, from the past only (and it would be enough to do so) we can extract lessons from the experiences lived and the future that is yet to come, does not exist. Let's qualify this, let's say that it's half done, quite outlined, but it's not written in the stars either? Let's say that our future is on track, as a result of our past actions.
Although I insist... there is hope. The game is not completely lost -it never is-, because the human being has come to this world to play, in this continuous and imperfect present that we have had to suffer and enjoy, and with this inherited arrangement of pieces on the board, as well as many of the cards we hold in our hands, not everything has been said. We can still - today is always still, all life is now - do, as individuals and societies with the capacity and naturalness to be cooperative, almost anything we set our minds to. That is our luck. And partly our curse.