Reversing the future

ImageJohn Crowley, brilliant writer of splendid speculative fiction, meditates on the future in the most recent Lapham’s. I’d like to draw attention to two main points, beyond the brooding lushness of Crowley’s prose.

First, there’s a futuring method on display.  Even if it’s tongue in cheek, the approach is both entertaining and potentially useful for group work.  The gist: reverse our expectations for the future.  You could even test it retrospectively:

if you simply reversed what the past had imagined, you got something close to the real existing present.

I’d like to try this on small groups.

Crowley then offers an example of this method, projecting one future:

The future will consist of a new kind of universal anarcho-totalitarian system which is, on the whole, pretty successful at fostering human happiness and diversity as well as ensuring social justice and welfare…

A command economy, of course: that idea failed in the past because of lack of timely information and a disregard of personal desires, but the Internet 4.0, born out of the primitive workings of Google and Amazon, will fix that, and what you want—within reason—you can get. It seems impossible to us that, absent the Invisible Hand, entrepreneurial innovation can flourish, wants be met, and well-being increase—so it’s clear that’s what is to come.

Read through the article to see which predictions and trends Crowley selects, then reverses.


The future will show simplicity, asceticism (possibly as a result of scarcity: there may be enough for all, but not a lot more) and taking care, maybe too much care. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without. Certainly a democracy with as many parties as there are citizens, a parliament of all persons governing through a sort of fractal consensus which I cannot specify in detail…

Being a creator of fictions, Crowley naturally offers a very short narrative glimpse:

A woman awakes in her house in Sitka, Alaska, to make tea, wake her family, and walk the beach (it runs differently from where it runs today). After meditation she enters into communication with the other syndics of a worldwide revolving presidium, awake early or up late in city communes or new desert oases. Nightlong the avatars have clustered, the informations have been threshed: the continuous town meeting of the global village. There is much to do.


(via MetaFilter; photo via Pictorial Bibliography; cross-posted to my main blog)

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  1. Reversing the future | Bryan Alexander

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