The human alchemy which so rapidly transforms technological wonder into ennui has several consequences.
First, it is part of the way our technology layers over the generations: each is born to a new normal (a process described beautifully by Douglas Adams).
Second, it helps explain how things can seem to have been "going to hell for as long as anyone can remember" while in many ways improving overall in the long run (Paul Saffo).
Third, it suggests that futures work that attempts to leverage the principle of dazzling people ("Flying cars! Underwater houses! Flying houses!") may be questing in the wrong emotional register.
Here we come to the core issue, from a futurist standpoint. As Jamais Open the Future Cascio wrote not long ago:
Changes rarely shock; more often, they startle or titillate, and very quickly get folded into the existing cultural momentum.
The folks in [a future] scenario don't just wake up one day to find their lives transformed; they live their lives to that point. They hear about new developments long before they encounter them, and know somebody who bought an Apple iLens or package of NuBacon before doing so themselves. The future creeps up on them, and infiltrates their lives; it becomes, for the people living there, the banal present.
So, rather than plundering the landscape of possible futures for their potential to startle, this line of thinking suggests that it may be truer to our subject matter if we try to convey the ordinary, quotidian quality of varied ways of being in the future (for which purpose, the already staggering variety of the past and present set a fine precedent: there are a million different ways to be bored). But there's a real art to this. Making the extraordinary seem ordinary is an uncommon feat.
The most successful science fiction films, in a narrative or artistic sense, tend to suffuse whatever novelties they introduce with a lived-in quality that lends the texture of truth. The first work to spring to my mind in this category is Alfonso Cuarón's masterful Children of Men, about which this writer has said:
The reality of the hypothesis, or put another way, the plausibility of the scenario (the mechanism of which is never properly explained in the film) was asserted with such fluidity, confidence, and integrity of detail -- just the way we encounter the real world, which is crammed full of people accepting complete absurdities as wallpaper -- that I found myself drawn in, having to meet the story on its own terms.
The study of futures provides valuable arguments and heuristics for both "making the strange familiar, and the familiar strange". (I don't know who first suggested his provocative formula, but it has relevance for many endeavours, not least art and anthropology.) Devising and communicating what we might call "everyday futures", is an example of the former operation, and I agree with Jamais about our collective room for improvement there.
The latter, however, is no less important. Louis C.K. is looking for laughs, not social analysis, but the insight works either way. He's right: Everything is amazing. To stand back from this every day -- to discern in it not only the banal, but at one and the same time the beautiful and the bizarre -- is to stand in awe.
We are told of a Chinese curse that says "May you live in interesting times". I wonder if it makes things better or worse not even to realise when this has come true.
> Don't panic
> In praise of Children of Men
(via The Long Now Blog)