2019 is now upon us and it’s a relief to see it’s not quite how Philip K Dick imagined it in his 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the inspiration for the Blade Runner film of 1982. We don’t have flying police cars, although we do have a growing use of drones; and we don’t have android human ‘replicants’, although there are currently exponential developments taking place in Artificial Intelligence (AI). And we don’t have ‘off world’ colonies, although space travel discussion is on the increase and certainly a few voyages to Mars are planned.
It’s been a natural human response to the world around us to imagine what the future might hold since we began organising ourselves into communities and civilisations. The start of a new year provides a natural place to begin thinking about the future, even if it’s only the immediate upcoming 12 months. Initially, this desire would have developed from a point of survival:
- Preparing for conflict
- Preparing and anticipating weather for harvesting and farming
- Preparing and planning a journey
This would then have evolved to not only survive but to actually improve one’s life. To plan for better outcomes and look forward to opening new possibilities and opportunities. This took many shapes and forms, from examining better methods of production to political manifestos declaring revolutionary ideas.
Then as we developed these advancements, greater sophistication and more free time allowed an explosion of thinking – and this thinking lead to ‘What If’ scenarios. This brings us back to Blade Runner which was a work of imaginative speculative fiction looking ahead to what life might be like 50 years in the future. In Dick’s vision the future is dark, bleak, and full of oppression. But it wasn’t always like this.
Utopian Becomes Dystopian
The seeds of this imaginative speculation are usually traced back to Plato’s Republic where he outlines the ideal society and its supporting politics. It was a representation of The Ideal Place and of how everything could function in harmony. It was a positive outlook which either influenced or certainly carried through to much that followed. But somewhere along the way our vision of the future dimmed, and following World War II, it’s hard to find speculative fiction that isn’t dystopian. Brave New World, 1984, A Clockwork Orange, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games and of course Blade Runner remain popular examples from the past 70 years that continue to resonate today.
Disillusionment with past failures has caused widespread apathy as we continue to wrestle with democracy and what it means in this still-young century. While there certainly are some very questionable elements to life in 2019, I can take a look around my own immediate area and be very hopeful in what the future holds:
- Living in Edinburgh continues to provide a spark for opportunities, as do other areas in Scotland such as Dundee
- Initiatives such as Social Bite continue to tackle the disparity between the rich and poor – progressive, meaningful and effective programmes with tangible results backing up the message
- People I get to work with – so many different and exciting projects that there’s never a dull day – it’s a privilege to be working with so many great, smart people
Bring on 2019!