What’s all this about then?
Do you remember the Flash movie Epic 2014 (or the updated version Epic 2015), which did the rounds back in 2004/5?
If you worked in digital or media at that time the chances are that someone sent a link around to wherever you were working, via email (this was before Facebook or Twitter).
The film charts the road to an imagined future world of 2014 (or 2015), that starts back in 1989 with Tim Berners-Lee inventing the World Wide Web.
Its ingenious conceit was to set itself as a museum piece from the future, looking back at how the world had changed through the whole period. It was therefore simultaneously reflective and predictive: a provocative ‘what if?’ aimed mainly at news organisations trying to work out what to do about the digital big-guns already lining up to park all over their beautiful lawns.
The movie was exciting at the time: many of my clients in the early 2000s were newspapers and other media businesses who were already feeling the flattening downwards pressure of the big digital foot. Fast forward to today, it’s stamped them into the ground and now it’s trying to clean the mess that’s splattered all over its sole.
Anyway, I found it again and it’s really interesting to watch someone from 2004’s ideas about what 2014 will be like, from the vantage point of 2017. I recommend watching the whole 9 minutes of the Epic 2015 version above.
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times”
These are the first words of the movie. They’re taken from Dicken’s famous opening sentences from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. These two sentence set up the movie’s binary contrast — deliberate even in terms of its stark black and white style — of light versus darkness, the usurping of an old order by a new one, and the ambiguity of ‘better than before, but also worse’.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us”
Today feels even more like ‘the best and worst of times’
Doesn’t that paragraph make you think about the situation today? If anything, it feels like the reality is both better and worse even than the predictions made in the movie. Of course, the movie has a strong media focus, but even allowing for that it’s clear that the future turned out to be much more extreme than that envisaged in Epic 2014. Both much better and much worse.
I read Martha Lane-Fox’s recent House of Lords speech and was struck by the same ambiguity. I think many people probably feel like this: great promise has given way to great disillusionment. People don’t feel unambiguously positive about it any more. They’re starting to hate and fear technology. They talk less about the upside and more about about detoxing, burnout, creepy spyware, trolls, ransomware, the dark addiction to Candy Crush, sleep patterns destroyed by on-demand TV, psychotic narcissism peaking on a global scale, democracy is bleeding out, robot overlords with silicon brains will overpower/out-perform/replace/enslave/have sex with us, and the future looks more like a post-truth apocalypse with hybrid humans and artificial meat than — to use a phrase from a more optimistic era — “the long bloom”.
Martha used examples throughout her 3-minute Lords speech, including:
“The internet promised us flexible, creative work that could be done anywhere. Again, the internet delivered: today we have the biggest tech industry in Europe, with 1.5 million people employed and nearly £7 billion invested last year alone.
But alongside that we also have Amazon delivery drivers receiving as little as £3 an hour without time for breaks, while CEO Jeff Bezos’ personal wealth surpasses $92 billion. That was enough money to make him the world’s richest man this past summer.”
On one hand, mind-blowing and incredible progress. On the other, heart-breaking and terrifying failure.
The movie ‘Epic 14’ reminds us that this binary reaction is far from new: it’s always been there. But today the light is even brighter, and the darkness so much more ominous and shadowy than any of us thought possible.
Once embarked upon this train of thought, I followed my growing obsession into a long, dark tunnel. I now find myself on a long and winding journey, discovering more new articles and blog posts every day that are about the same thing: the best and worst of times is happening now. It’s either the end times, or the start of something else, or both. Whatever it is, I’ve become somewhat preoccupied with it. I think it’s just a coping strategy.
Please join me on an odyssey into the best and worst of times.