Dude, Where’s My 22nd Century?

On why we are too burnt-out to imagine the future.

I have a question.

When is the last time you heard someone refer to “the 22nd Century”?

Legendary sci-fi novelist William Gibson has been wondering over the same apparent absence of concern for the future in culture:

Dude, Where’s My 22nd Century?

This week I published a speculation on the absence of future-images and its relation to the phenomenon of the ‘burnout’ with MARCH Journal of Art & Strategy. The piece goes into how the flow of time has historically been considered, and what effect that has today on our bodies and minds.

As it turns out, the explosion of cultural production and creative making of future-images in the 50’s, 60’s, and peaking in the 70’s, has petered out (the article explains why) and left us disappointed and despairing. This collides with the sense that, “History of late may be going nowhere, but it’s going nowhere faster.”

We’re running on a treadmill, too exhausted by the Long Now and surviving today to have the time and space to imagine and make future-images. The only attempts we see are dystopian film after dystopian series, and retro looking renderings for ideas of outer space colonies dreamed up by and for the 1% (Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos, to name but three.)

Who is showing us the 22nd century? Are we simply too despairing of what we might see? If social change is a push-pull process “in which a society is at once pulled forward by its own magnetic images of an idealized future and pushed from behind by its realized past,” without a magnetic pull from the front, how are we to move out from the stagnation?

The mass phenomenon of the burnout directly reflects the troubles of our cultural imagination.

If you’re like me and wondering what the hell is happening with all these burnouts… or you’re also like me and watching That 70’s Show because life seemed so much more chill then (the lockdown time-travel escapism is real)…

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