Tuesday, 26 October 2010

"Celebrities are Certain to be Accredited Miracles" : Remembering the Future

It should be a cautionary experience for today's would-be-futurists to read those projections now a few decades old. Recently I have been reading a curious addition to this canon, named Futureprobe and written by Nigel Collins and Arthur Cotterell, a community worker and a lecturer in charge of adult education respectively, first published in 1974 by Heineman Educational Books (a "Teacher's Book," we are told, accompanies this volume, but alas Oxfam didn't have it). So much of Futureprobe is written in the language of inevitability - x or y, or at the very least some development in x or y, are always bound to happen.

To the credit of Messers Collins and Cotterell, they do at least frequently offer two or three opposing scenarios - one a "nightmare", the other a more optimistic "daylight scenario" (and occasionally "twilight" between them). More than can be said for many of today's futurists, especially those concerned with developments to do with the internet. Most of whom are so in thrall to Thatcher's TINA doctrine that any possible future outcome, aside from that featured in the latest Google press release, is literally inconceivable.

Despite, refusing to speculate beyond the distant horizon of 2000AD, however, it is notable how few of the predictions, or even anything like them, whether nightmare or bright daylight, have come true. Indeed, in the case of most of the salient points under discussion, things have remained rather static (though this is obviously not for a moment to suggest that nothing in the world has changed since 1974 - though, as Brian Aldiss has remarked, the idea, for instance, that the Soviet Union might collapse before the century's end would have been considered too far-fetched even for science fiction only a decade before it actually happened).

What is interesting, in the light of the thesis put forward in Hervé Juvin's The Coming of the Body, is that, for the authors of Futureprobe, such still-distant promises as Martian colonies and manned space flight beyond the solar system, a leisure society made possible by a robotic workforce, the end of pollution thanks to solar-powered cities and the death of the petrol-powered automobile; are evidently considered to be of an equal level of plausibility as a number of developments with which we are all now familiar, at least from the news if not from our own lives - the transplantation of any organ but the brain; the xenografting of tissue from other animals in surgical procedures; euthanasia centres; and the cloning of mammalian life forms. It may well be that in 1974 all these things really were equally possible, equally near and equally far, but that the mechanisms of politics and scientific research have seemingly progressed only with regard to the body.