July 20, 2019. It’s been 50 years since the Apollo 11 first landed on the moon, and celebrations are underway at the lunar settlement of Clavius City. Back on Earth, the Internet of Things has arrived, with intelligent homes that predict and fulfil your every want. Intelligence Amplifiers and self-replicating sentient robots have mostly replaced human employees, who are now hired only as flash status symbols. To relax, you can play spaceminton or take maglev trains, hovercraft or spaceliner to the Holorama Cinema to plug into an immersive 3D cinema experience. TVs allow you to seamlessly replace any character with your own image, and your psychiatrist now helps to design, script, and control your dreams.
Though it’s not all techtopic optimism:
Here’s another problem with technological extrapolation. It assumes a technologically determinist, utopian vision of the future in which all the callous brutishness of the present is somehow magically erased. That the future will somehow be evenly distributed, with relatively equal access to these technologies that make it all better. That the future will be made in the image of those currently in power, using the same tools and technologies. That it gets better, and not way, way, worse.
Whose future, and in whose name? I’m thinking about Joel Dinerstein’s writings on ‘techno-fundamentalism’ and ‘technology as White mythology’ here, certainly. But also about that particularly futuristy tic of aspirational weirdness. As in, what we want out of the future is not that it’s better or more comfortable or less ecologically destructive or more equitable or more just. What we want out of the future is that it’s weird, please let it be weird. Where does this come from? Is it a particularly classed, gendered, even racinated (?) thing? Does aspirational weirdness assume the same kind of techtopianism as Clarke, where all the inequalities and injustices of today will somehow get vectorised and smoothed over? Or is it that these struggles frankly not on the radar for folks who aspire to—long for—weirdness? And now I’m wondering, how do you arrive at a praxical synthesis of weirdness and social justice? (Because undoubtedly, there’s something enticing and seductive about «weirdness» for me too.) I want to emphasise the praxical, because it’s all too easy to arrive at something that feels fresh, directional, transformative, but never manages to transcend the realm of aesthetics, especially with regards to ethnifuturisms. (Not that aesthetics aren’t equally as important. A future featuring people who look like me? Radical) And what’s more directional and transformative than social justice? Gil Scott-Heron’s poem, Whitey on the Moon, feels equally relevant here: Nearly a year ago now, I remember being perched around a laptop in living room in New Orleans’ Bywater. We were watching the Mars Rover make its heavily mediated (and anthopomorphised) landing, and I was thinking about how different this experience was to the 1969 moon landing. That I had my own laptop open to the @CuriosityRover twitter feed, along with my own timeline in another tab. That this was probably the end of space travel as we knew it, with NASA’s space travel program being recently shut down. And that perhaps this wasn’t a bad thing. Fran was there that night too; to my wondering at any resonance between the landing and her own short, she said “I wasn’t working on Afronauts but was thinking about it, and loved watching people watch space exploration happen.” Perhaps it’s just me looking for a suitably romanticisable synergy, but this? Watching people watch space exploration—read, the future—happen? I love this. It’s the Zambian exiles of Afronauts watching the otherworldly Matha (plus one-eyed cat) dissapear in a curved blaze of light, and it’s also me watching Fran—and scores of other POC filmmakers, artists, writers, musicians &c—reimagine
what the future could look like. Race is how we breathe on the internet; how will we breathe in space? Clarke ends his foreword with a quippy motto that was rejected by the Science Fiction Writers of America (and appears to originate from Paul Valery) the future isn’t what it used to be. This, as a certain MS might say, is a good thing.