As 2011 draws to a close, we find it easier to imagine the world ending than to imagine a seismic change of the sort that seems likely in 2012. Apocalypse cults herald the Rapture and the Mayan prophecies of doom, but critics of capitalism stop short of imagining a revolution in America or a new political order in the UK.
The stories we tell about the future are no longer hopeful, excited tales of technology and human spirit revealing new vistas of experience and exploration. Toby Barnes talked about this in his excellent post wrapping up Playful 2011: “Our visions now seem to be so close to home.” Not just in science fiction, in the stories we write and the movies we see, but in other areas of culture too, we go around in circles exploring the past. The New Boring aesthetic is everywhere, in our television, our clothes, our music, our interior decoration. Even cupcakes and cake stands are back.
It’s a little like the UK has collectively mislaid the cultural ability to imagine beyond the horizon, and started looking backwards over its shoulder instead. Not lost, because that implies it won’t come back, when the world stops changing so fast and people have jobs and can afford to eat and pay bills comfortably again (assuming that happens). But we have shifted our focus away from the shiny bright realm of limitless possibility to the scary possibilities of the present. While in some parts of the world 2011 has been about imagining revolution and embracing hope, in others the realm of the future has become a place where ends are easier to envisage than evolutions.
The same is true of the news industry. In a year when a British newspaper was unceremoniously killed by its owners, the end of a national newspaper suddenly changed from something hard to picture into something easy to recall. It’s much easier to envisage the end of the newsprint business than to conceive of its evolution. It’s harder to imagine what the news business in general will look like in 2031 than it is to imagine that there simply won’t be one. The apocalypse is a much easier story than the sci-fi future, these days.
I hope, in 2012, that changes. I hope we get our hopeful visions back.