ESCONDIDO – A man claiming to be a visitor from the year 2084 addressed a crowd of curious bystanders on the footsteps of a local Buddhist retreat on Saturday to offer news about the state of the future, little of which satisfied those gathered to meet him.
“This is bullshit,” said Chad Rayburn, 32, an information technology specialist from Chicago, father of three, and self-described Star Trek ‘nut’ who flew in that morning when he heard the time traveler planned on holding a press conference. “I thought in a few decades from now we would have been colonizing the solar system … at least terraforming Mars to make it habitable for humans. I’m really disappointed. Everything I’ve read about in books and seen in movies about the future is a lie.”
“Agreed,” said Melissa Gonzalez, 26, a single graphic designer from Mexico City and self-described ‘cyberpunk’ who also was excited to hear the time traveler speak, until she heard his message. “Give me a laser gun that pops out of my shoulder, nerve implants to increase my sexual sensitivity, or at least corporate-sponsored mechas performing in public jousts … but this … this is just ridiculous … this is just ridiculously boring.”
Jeremy Su, 28 – who described himself as an American physicist that will be born in 2056 – addressed policy makers, science fiction enthusiasts and other members of the public outside the Drikung Kyobpa Choling-Tibetan Meditation Center one week after he mysteriously appeared there, where he intended to clarify concerns expressed in the media about his visit and assure humanity that it was in store for neither the ‘heaven’ nor ‘hell’ that many of the futurists present anticipated.
Instead, Su claimed people could look forward to a day-to-day existence often fraught with the same highs, lows, as well as the dull in-between states of being that they experience under current circumstances.
“For the vast majority of you, your lives will have regular ups and downs very similar to those you have right now,” said Su. “Many of you have wild prognostications about the future, fantastic dreams about the paradise coming to Earth that will increase lifespans, end suffering and provide leisure opportunities to enjoy this existence thanks to a robot workforce, sustainable development and an evolving biotech industry. Still others of you have expressed the opposite, dystopian nightmares of global calamities resulting from rogue governments and corporations, dwindling energy and food supplies, overpopulation growth and climate change …
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am here to assure you that neither of these scenarios prove to be true, and the world of tomorrow will not be much different than it is today.”
Su wore a fedora that shaded his eyes from the sun and allowed him to gaze freely into the crowd. He had evenly-parted bangs, and he wore a collared green shirt and pants made from a shiny, not easily-identified material, which Gonzalez said resembled business casual dress.
“Looks like a corporate lackey to me,” said Gonzalez.
“For those of you, your children and grandchildren who will be alive in 2084, most of you will still be working lousy and unsatisfying jobs to support yourselves — except perhaps your boss will not be some obnoxious or overweight man or woman you despise, but a Thalen-3 artificially-intelligent computer that is superior to you and your co-workers in every work-related way,” said Su. “You will still be striving to escape the minutiae of your lives — and with the usual mixed results — except that some of you will take more dramatic steps to do so, like leaving your bodies for as long you wish or able to afford and joining the online OASIS imagined in Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One — one prediction that does come true, by the way.
“There will still be most of the trappings of civilization you are used to and have come to expect — such as your phones, for example, which will allow you to be in constant contact with anyone you wish — except they will be embedded into your ear and no longer a device you carry,” said Su. “With them will also be a translator that allows you to speak the language of anyone you meet as you are ferried on bullet trains and whisked aboard hypersonic aero-planes from job to job in the ever-tangling web of tomorrow’s global economy. It’s true, in the future people will be even more dependent on each other and their jobs than they are right now. If anything, there will be even less time for family and friends, I’m afraid, although the Oil Wars will have come to an amicable end and catastrophe for humanity will have been averted at the final hour, thankfully, due to fusion energy …”
“And yet even by avoiding extinction, so little will have really changed,” said Su. “The reason, of course, is that the system itself will not have changed. Not really. Capitalism and our roles in it will continue, because it’s all we know, and it’s all we will continue to know because we will not have the foresight and organizational capacity to work on a collective level for the common good yet, despite some of the well wishes of the sci-fi fans who stand before me now.
“The Thalen-3’s that manage much of the future American workforce, for example, will be put in place not to make the human workload easier, but to increase the shareholders’ bottom line. Tomorrow will still be a world driven by profit.”
Su paused long enough to gaze at the crowd and make sure they understood him. Many of them nodded, and a few waved in acknowledgement.
“Who knows what will happen to all of those unemployed managers after their severance packages run out?” said Su. “They will have to re-tool themselves for the few jobs still allotted humans, or move back in with their parents, or hide in a corner somewhere, until something gives. That’s their problem, right? Of course it is. Everyone now, as in the future, has their own problems to worry about, and that’s how things go, because that’s how we always have managed them. Real change, it turns out, takes longer than an election cycle, longer than decades to achieve. Though we have the potential to do much of what we set our minds to, it is coordination and cooperation that are lacking, because real change takes an inordinate amount of effort, and who has time for that?
“If history has taught us anything over the twenty-first century, it’s that people’s needs are an afterthought to the system they have created. I hate to say it, ladies and gentlemen, but real change is something we’re still talking about in 2084. The good news is there will be a 2084 in which to talk about it.”
Cheryl Whitewater, May 30, 2016