Postcards from the Futch
Nothing looks like the past like talking about “the future” of the internet.
In the future what will the future mean for the future of the future? In the future will futures create new futures for futures? What future might the future bring?
We have reached a point where titling something “The Future of” looks antiquated, a blast from the internet culture near past. And, by the way, this isn’t a new idea. I could paraphrase something J. G Ballard said in the forward to the 1995 reprinting of Crash: “Increasingly, our concepts of past, present and future are being forced to revise themselves. The future is ceasing to exist, devoured by the all-voracious present. We have annexed the future into the present, as merely one of those manifold alternatives open to us. Options multiply around us, and we live in an almost infantile world where any demand, any possibility, whether for life-styles, travel, sexual roles and identities, can be satisfied instantly.” Ballard could be complaining about the future today. And it wasn’t a new point then, either.
As a way of thinking about the internet, “the future of” is a particular form of procrastination.
Recently, Kanye West said in an interview that he talks about “the futch” with his pal, Elon Musk.
I suggest we borrow West’s coinage the “futch” to describe the “futurism” of snake oil internet gurus. The Shingys. The idea-ators. Everyone who instructed us to keep looking toward the horizon and never look down is guilty now. The “futch” is the recognition that we cannot begin to categorize let alone solve any problems in this moment now.
Tech conferences incubate the futch. It is hard to fact-check someone with a headset mic on stage. You can subtweet a talk, you can troll it in the YouTube comments once the documentation is up, but someone alone on stage is not there for debate. Tech culture gravitated around these spaces, first at SXSW Interactive, then TED added a stylized sheen. Speakers play reverend to a church of consultants. Or maybe the speakers are consultants to the consultants. It’s the future of futures all the way down.
The futch ignores complexity. The futch denies how the internet amplifies existing hierarchies and upholds structural inequality. The futch is every broken promise of every new app or internet service. There’s always demand for more legible future. Futch-peddling is about as noble a profession as astrologer, and one with about as little accountability.
“….here we stand in the dark, in the rubble of busted ideas and broken promises and ten thousand conference lanyards. No future left.
I think that’s probably got to stop, don’t you?
Predicting causes litter. Prediction causes enough embarrassment that you have to leave down and set up shop again two towns up the road. Prediction is the best circus act of all. But it is just an act. It’s a carny turn. Stop doing it. Or I will make you wear clown shoes while you do it.”
.. Talking about the future of the spaceplane without talking about the politics, economics, environment surrounding it… you might as well be just fucking juggling. It’s a meaningless act. Talking about the future of music strictly in terms of compression rates and headphones is wasted breath. And yet I see this all the time. And it’s so rare that the people talking about the future of space travel talk to the people talking about the future of music, and so few of them seem to talk to the people involved in political futures except as lobbyists. We’re all afraid to be wrong because we’ve done it so much, under the auspices of prediction, that now we specialize in tiny fields that we can get our arms around. There are people out there so heavily specialized in wearable technology that they call shirts with networked devices built into them “wearable shirts.” They’re so deep into their own silo of futurism that they’ve forgotten how shirts work.
After the conference, I spent the following week in London, a city with a future that looks like row upon row of luxury high rise apartments inhabited by oligarchs that spend 95% percent of their time elsewhere. Inside the Ring of Steel is a city of broken futch.
I became interested in “tech” more than a decade ago, with the naive, romantic notion that the internet would lead us to a better world. To talk about the future of the internet back then was to confess to this unrequited love. It was a chance to dream aloud and reveal one’s desire for humanity. Then the futch happened. If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on the shruggie emoticon forever.