February 22, 2020

The Weirdness of the World of Tomorrow

““The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” When the novelist William Gibson said this — probably in the late ’80s, though, like a lot of prophetic aphorisms, when he first said it is not exactly clear — he was describing distribution by place: iPhones arriving en masse in Steve Jobs’s United States, all-inclusive social-credit scores blanketing Xi Jinping’s China, antibiotic-resistant superbugs cropping up in India before spreading as far as the Arctic, climate change flooding the Ganges Delta in Bangladesh long before it conquers New York or Tokyo.

But the distribution is uneven in time, too, because the future never arrives all at once with the thunderclap of a brave new world suddenly supplanting the comfortable old one. Which is why future-gazers like Gibson are always talking about how their works aren’t about the future — and pointing out how terrible their records would be in predicting it — but about the world in which they were written.

They are right. Today the world has the uncanny shimmer of future weirdness, its every week stuffed with new events that seem to open up strange new realities only to be forgotten as the next wave of strangeness hits. But as the decade pulls to a close, we’re unpacking the last year of it in a timeline of crucial 2019 dates that played like premonitions of where we’ll be ten years from now. The future is present in these moments — epic, like the battle for Hong Kong; eerie, like virtual makeup; and personal, like contemplating gender-confirmation surgery.”

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