The first time I knew we were officially living in the future was when I came across Ice Cream Sundae flavored Pop-Tarts in the grocery store.
It’s already pretty common knowledge that a lot of our processed food only tastes the way it does because the flavors are engineered and injected into it in some anonymous, gray facility in an undisclosed location. The flavor in your mouth has absolutely nothing to do with how the food is actually prepared. But this was the first time I’d ever been so blatantly confronted by the notion. This wasn’t just capitulation to a crumbling facade. This was actively tearing that facade down, then setting fire to its ruined form as it lay on the ground and peeing on it a bit for good measure.
And in the years since that fateful encounter we’ve only gone further down the rabbit hole. Forcing the taste of entire ice cream dishes into breakfast pastries was just one symptom of a larger issue which has only become more blatant over time. Technology has allowed us to do so many things that we’ve gotten in the habit of just going ahead and doing them without pausing to ask if maybe this isn’t such a good idea. This is already a pretty dangerous notion, but it becomes even more dangerous when it’s paired with another fundamental truth of our modern society: convenience breeds laziness. And things have never been so convenient for those of us lucky enough to live in the developed world.
What I’m trying to say is that sure, William Gibson, Phillip K. Dick and others of their ilk were definitely smart people. So many of their visions of a warped future society have come true. But I think stunning foresight only accounts for half of the reason our real world has come to resemble their imaginary one. The other half is sloth. It’s having all these narratives about progress and technology already developed, so why not just go ahead and use them? It’s certainly less labor intensive than trying to develop one on our own.
How else do you explain us currently living in a cyber-punk author’s wet dream? We’ve got almost every ingredient lined up and waiting for a brooding dude in a trench coat wielding an implausibly large handgun to step into frame. There’s no shortage of outlandish environmental disasters, implausibly well armed extremist groups that necessitate the deployment of killer robots to fight them, a truly startling wealth gap, a police force that increasingly looks like the masked bad guys whose only function is to establish just how evil the government is by how menacing they look, and all this in the midst of startling technological development, up to and including miniature computers worn on your face and fabricators that can just build whatever you want. Renegade hackers routinely make the headlines for audacious acts both criminal and rebellious. Millions of people devote themselves to a world that exists only on server banks thousands of miles away. We even have a completely digital pop star playing to packed arenas for crying out loud. You get the point by now.
What I’m trying to say is we need to just step up and go full cyberpunk already. We’re already like 75% of the way there, but for the most part it’s the boring and oppressive stuff that dominates the headlines. If we get it together and take it all the way to 100%, full flavored, honest to goodness cyberpunk we could have it so much better than absurdly flavored pop tarts. Flying cars! Sexbots! Lunar colonies! Really flexible sexbots! Coming home to any of these things would make it so much easier to deal with all that other stuff the news is blaring on about everyday. So come on America! Let’s see just how lazy we can get when it comes to defining our cultural narrative of progress. The sexbots are counting on you.