Tuesday, November 26, 2019

No future

A lifetime of reading has done little to improve my word recognition skills. I often misread signs and notices, repeatedly confusing push and pull on door signs (after all context is everything - isn't it?). In short I tend to distrust what I thought I read. For example, driving through Nottingham the other week I thought I saw a poster that said 'The future can be thought', and that interested me enough to google BT posters - you'll notice that I didn't misread the colours thanks to my multimodal sensibilities - and of course that search quickly revealed my mistake. BT claims that the future can be taught. Just another bid for the digital future as it turns out, and unfortunately just a little late to make it into our new book 'Undoing the Digital' which will be out next Spring (if there is one). As you might gather from this one of our targets in the book is to problematise the notion of a 'digital future'. And that's part of a larger argument about the notion of a monolithic 'thing' called the digital. But it also could be a critique of future itself. Paul Valery had it about right when he said 'The future isn't what it used to be'. Being of a particular generation I grew with fancy visions of the future. A utopian Age of Aquarius was dawning, and when this stalled it was replaced by a vision of social and political progress influenced in no small part by Marxism. Lurching into the 21st Century watching new Labour's idea that Things Can only get Better run aground did little to revive optimism. And now we seem to be standing in a place in which the future is unknowable in all sorts of ways - socially, politically, nationally, environmentally, economically and even technologically. There is clearly an urgency in the need to reckon with the past, with the excesses of industrial expansion and colonialism and to acknowledge the mess they left us in as well as the ways in which they continue to form the present. But there is also a need to relocate ourselves, with an ethical sensibility in the present. That, I think, leaves us enough to get on with without teaching the future.