The Future Is Now: An End-Of-Decade Look At Things To Come

It's about to be 2010, which means: The Future! But what will that look like? To find out, let's take a tour through some famous visions of the future in TV and film.

Flying Cars

As my friend used to say when he amused himself by winding his watch backward during history class, "Forward, forward, into the past!" First stop: flying cars. obviously, this mode of transportation was a mainstay of The Jetsons' vision of the future, a vision that revolved around everything being really angular and having lots of buttons. This vision continues to influence us today, in the form of superfluous stupid buttons and dials on what should be simple devices (does my microwave need a "popcorn" button?). You could argue that the simple, streamlined iPod heralded the end of Jetsonian hegemony over consumer technology — or maybe it was the recession and the decreasing popularity of the private jet, an actual flying car for rich people. Then again, we do have robot maids. And robot girlfriends, aka horrible mechanized dough-wads that crawl into bed with you.


The Clean Future

The clean future, best exemplified in Star Trek: The Next Generation and, to a lesser extent, Star Trek: Voyager is a place where clothes never tear, metal never rusts, and people only get sick if it means they'll go crazy and want to fuck their crewmates. Of course, the Star Trek universe has its problems (Borg), but somehow at least those aboard the Enterprise have achieved a kind of cleanliness utopia in which nothing ever looks cruddy for even a second. This is best exemplified by the replicator, which creates food or drink already in a dish so you don't have to boil or chop or otherwise disarray anything in your perfectly ordered living space. The Star Trek universe is basically an obsessive-compulsive's dream. And judging from the fact that even my OCD ass is currently living on top of a squalid pile of old magazines, shoes, and Werther's Original wrappers, I'd say we are pretty far from this vision of the future.


The Dirty Future

Both the clean future and the flying-cars future take a fundamentally optimistic view of technology. But proponents of the dirty future know the truth — shit is always fucking breaking. In the clean future, machines are pretty — in the dirty future, they are ugly and covered in tubing. A good example of the dirty future is the film Brazil, in which the ever-present machinery only makes people's live more dangerous and annoying. The dirty future can also be represented by actual dirt — cf. Mad Max — but its truest message is the constant breakdown of systems humans invent to do their bidding. If anything, the dirty future is the flying-cars future gone horribly awry — and its symbol is not the iPod, but the New York subway system.


The Branded Future

In the branded future, everything is sponsored and there are advertisements everywhere. Blade Runner kind of kicked off this idea with its building-high ads, and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest picked it up with the idea of calendar years sponsored by brands like Depends. The branded future is basically the logical extension of mid-twentieth century corporate culture, the kind that subsidized Little League teams and cute stuff like that. But the branded future is sinister because it implies that no square inch of space in unspoken for – there is no rest for the eye amid the chaos of commercial imagery. And yeah, we are totally there. Downtown LA already has enormous ads on its buildings. If you watch pro baseball, you'll be familiar with shit like the AFLAC Seventh Inning Stretch — time has been subsidized. This future is, sadly for Infinite Jest, now out of date, because it's already here.


The Dystopian Future

As you may have noticed, these categories have some overlap, and a dystopian future can also be dirty (Children of Men), branded (the aforementioned Blade Runner), or clean (Gattaca). But what it must have is a constant feeling of impending doom. This doom comes from one of two sources — the total breakdown of human society (The Road), or an extraneous threat to the planet Earth (the seriously underrated Sunshine, pictured). Of the two scenarios, you really want to get stuck in the latter, because you're less likely to get eaten alive.


The Future's Future
Of course, we seem to have drawn so close to our own doom that even this to be in scenarios don't quite look like the future anymore. So what is the future of tomorrow? What can we look forward to with dread and anticipation at 12:01 AM on January 1, 2010, when everything will obviously be totally different? Well, forward, forward, into the past! The future's new black, if I may speculate, looks like a scene near the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey — a bizarre and beautiful room full of Louis XVI furniture in which we drink from the teacup of death. The fact that this scene is eerily similar to the only cool part of The Matrix Reloaded — the appearance of the weird Frenchified Merovingian (pictured) — just confirms for me that this is our inevitable destiny. I know many people have explained the significance of the weird French bedroom scene in 2001, but I have resisted even reading these explanations. The future's future cannot be understood in the terms of today, and it exists outside the technology that makes the clean future clean and the dirty one dirty. There are no buttons; there is no world to end or not end. There is only a bizarrely well-decorated waiting room in which we anticipate our ultimate fate.

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