COMMENT AND OPINION:
CONSENSUS FUTURE, CULTURAL NOSTALGIA, & THE RISE OF THE NEW POPULISM
By T.K. McNeil
“When I pronounce the word future the first syllable already belongs to the past” Wistawa Szmborska
Of all human concepts, the future is among the most pervasive, as well as the most powerful. The basis for the concern around children as well as the justification for some horrendous acts. It is also one of the least certain and most fraught with problems.
“Consensus future” refers to the visions of the future most people agree on. Largely because they are the visions that we have been given through culture. This includes the notion of cloning, first presented in a major way in the 1993 film Jurassic Park. And self-driving cars, have been a common futuristic theme in popular culture since at least the 1960’s. Just think Batman. The majority of technology trends are imagined and created on consensus future.
One of the biggest issues with future forecasting, particularly in terms of technology trends, is the fundamental unpredictability of both people and markets. Even a brief glance at the history of technology trends reveals an essential inability to show where trends are going to go, as well as a strong tendency towards normalization. One of the sharpest observers of this latter trend was the British science fiction author J.G. Ballard. Ballard created future worlds at the height of the future craze of the mid-20th century that were remarkable, mostly for the basic lack of surprise shown by the characters to the technology that surrounded them. Embryonic proof of the consensus future.
One of the lesser known theories in terms of futurism is “manufactured normalcy”. With regard to technology trends, this term refers to the tendency of people to adapt quickly to any new piece of technology. The first period of excitement getting shorter as the turnaround between new models continues to decrease. It has, in fact, been argued that such surprise, or “future shock” as term by sociologist Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book of the same name, has largely subsided, if it ever existed at all. This happens even if the technology in question is not actually boring, or at all commonplace, and tends to apply, especially to things inside the consensus future narrative.