From time to time, I am asked to speak about the future. And the main item on the audience agenda usually is “what will be different?” There is a sense of wonder in the possibilities. Like making gas from air, using replicators, regrowing organs, zooming around in space and so on. But also there is a fear that we may lose what we value most in favor of things that we do not understand or like so well. Many see that unfortunate trajectory from past trends. Most prominently, the 20th century re-scaled cities and transport and in the process mangled public spaces. So we are fascinated by the future and fearful at the same time.
A quick note about the 20th century. It is true that the “heroic materialism” of the 20th century led to unfortunate dehumanizing of public spaces. And I agree with Sir Kenneth Clark that this “heroic materialism” is not enough to give people the confidence over time to embark on great civilizing projects. We stagnate amidst the material “plenty” that we buy and consume.
Will this continue in the 21st century? Will we remain stuck in the heroic materialistic period that we have inherited? There are signs that we may not. The first sign is in the rapid acceleration of exchanges of ideas that the internet makes possible. More shared experiences leads to faster group development. And perhaps less preoccupation with material things. The second sign is a change in institutional norms. Firms are less rigid than they were. And this added flexibility means greater opportunities for individuals to embark on non-conforming explorations and projects.
And what will we do with these opportunities? My guess is that we will come to appreciate more the pleasures that being creative has to offer - using the right side of the brain more. How will that look? Well, these days we buy tickets to go to movies. Which movies? The ones that are on offer. To make our selection among those on offer, we can use reviews and descriptions. This is a step forward. But we are still passive consumers of films, with no possibility to participate in the creative processes that go into making them. What if that were possible? What would that look like?
Well, we would be able to participate in real and online discussions about stories that could be great film material. We might develop preferences for certain types of story telling and certain periods. We would know about people who have the specialized skills to make film effects possible. From costumes to furniture, lighting, etc. We could follow the process of selecting actors and perhaps take part in discussing what works and what does not. It might look something like this post from Bloomsbury Life.