Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Me and the Future

I started this blog with the future as its intended main subject, or at least its orientation.  Because I was looking forward from the present, with the past as a resource (including my own past), my age didn't seem to matter.

In the past year or so, since I turned 70, I began to be uncomfortable with this approach.  The "Captain Future" moniker denoted a certain irony, a particular playfulness about an heroic mission, but that no longer seemed enough.

There are two basic problems.  First, for a number of reasons that include my age, I've become more of a stranger to important features of contemporary culture.  I don't follow the latest popular music, I've given up trying to be at least familiar with the latest films and television, and more recently even the latest books.  The names of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar winners as well as the celebrities about whom the supermarket tabloids have frenzied stories about, are mostly complete blanks to me.

This is part of a natural turn away from the rolling present, with what now appear to be wearying and meaningless repetitions.  Especially after the last election, I felt the same way about politics.  I wore myself out over Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes.  And it changed nothing but my blood pressure.  I knew pretty much what was coming with this regime, though I confess it's happened faster, more thoroughly and relentlessly than I might have expected.  I didn't want to be doing play by play on self-defeating politics--especially not on that level--anymore.

So even before the election I had planned to transition out of this site into something that dealt more directly with my concerns as I age, as well as a site that seemed more honest about my point of view as it is particular to my age.

I didn't do so, partly out of inertia (a characteristic of aging, of course), partly because as small potatoes as this site's 10,000 hits a month may be, it's not nothing.  But the decisive factor was the world of pain I would likely be inviting by labeling a site--and myself--by age, and especially by my generation.  I couldn't think of an identity that would cover what I wanted to do.   And I definitely didn't want to be limited by defending the appallingly vilified baby boom generation.

So I've stuck with this site, though I've gradually added posts that reflect my newer point of view, which is from being older.  I am interested in the past I experienced, and look to it for texture and meaning, even if it isn't the most serious stuff in the world.  But I've noted that in terms of "hits" (which suggest but do not guarantee readers) these posts did pretty well. "The Lone Ranger Rides Again" is right up there with "100 Days of Solipsism."

(On another of my blogs, the less visited but personal favorite called A Blue Voice, the all-time most popular posts are my autobiographical exploration of "Christmas 1951."  I've thought about abandoning this blog for that one, and who knows?  I may still do it. But it currently gets far fewer visitors.)

But the point about writing about the future is, I don't necessarily share enough of the same present with the cultural mainstream.  I don't have the same references, I certainly don't have the same experiences--especially since I don't have (and don't want) a smart phone, nor do I text and skype and so on.  I'm not on Facebook or any social media.  So my experience is from an outsider, a minority point of view.

Well, maybe it always was.  And maybe, even without announcing my age and generational membership in every post like one of those smarmy "full disclosure" statements after 18 paragraphs of praising your employer or your brother's new book, I will almost helplessly indicate my point of view by the very references and even the vocabulary I employ.

In any case I'm not going to keep up any pretenses. Part of that is the attitude that suddenly arrived with my retirement from the comical responsibilities I did have for the past decade or so.  It happens to be perfectly expressed by one of those maddeningly repeated slogans on t-shirts and mugs: "Don't want to/don't need to/can't make me/ I'm retired."     

But there's also another pretense I'm giving up, which is that I'm competing for readers (sorry, I meant clicks) and power on the Internet.  If I cared about that, I'd be flogging this stuff on Facebook and Twitter, as well as learning all the dubious tricks of attracting "traffic."  You know what? Don't want to/don't need to/can't make me/ I'm retired.

Now back to the future which is already in progress... I said there were two basic problems I was dealing with in writing about the future (I should really make this another thread but...you got it.)

The second is the H.G. Wells problem.  At the end of his life, in the midst of his final illnesses, Wells wrote his final book, called Mind at the End of Its Tether.  Seventy years later, in his 2016 end of the year rants on The Well,  science fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling chose it as a cautionary tale about old guys writing about the future.   

He called it a "tragically ludicrous last book" that's totally apocalyptic. "In this book, the great speculator is elderly, exhausted, politically disillusioned, fatally ill and also the Atomic Bomb has been detonated. So he's like: Welp! That's it! No More Future!"

"For him, yes, that's true," Sterling notes. "Personally, he's toast: no more HG
Wells."  He calls it "just human egotism and frustration talking. Like: things didn't go my way, and the threats seem dire and mounting, and, therefore, there can be no world."

That's unfair to Wells and his work, but there is that one undeniable point: at a certain age, the end of the world is certain and likely to be soon.  That is, the end of the world for you.  There is the possible bias on your judgment therefore, to at least emotionally conclude that the world is also fated to end soon for everybody else.

Well, Wells wasn't wrong exactly--some of the failures he described may well be implicated in civilization's apocalyptic ending in historical time.  For me, it would be comforting to be able to believe that it's only my age that makes me fear for the future.  But as time goes on it becomes clearer to me that the climate crisis alone--and certainly in conjunction with the Fifth Great Extinction that's on track to happen--is going to vastly change the course of the future, and by most peoples' standards, for the worse.

There's plenty of evidence that those changes have begun, and plenty of science to suggest that the disruptions are going to get worse.  I have my ideas about the nature of the future into the next century, and it's not all shiny and bright.  There are a lot of hardships ahead in coming decades.  But there are also lives to lead that in some ways may be better lives, at least in terms of purpose and meaning.

But I have to be sensible that my intuitions may be colored by the imminence of my own future ending.  The nice way of putting it poetically is as a candle that flickers for awhile and suddenly blows out.  But the image that returns to me is of a figure bobbing in the ocean, suddenly disappearing into the depths and instantly covered by the sea, with no indication that anything was ever there.

But just as being old may color the future darker, being young colors the future just as much, and probably more violently.  An attraction to images of doom for some, but also identifying with the heroic survivors.  Or an anxiety, even denial, and an angry demand for hope.  The future is a fraught subject for everyone.

Besides, being older can also color the future brighter, based on doomsdays already survived.  In any case, it seems important to declare the age bias.  I just don't quite know how to do it.  But for the moment, it won't be by consigning myself to a geezer ghetto on the Internet, or by becoming an online Baby Boomer punching bag.

My philosophy of the Internet is "If you build it (or write it) they will come, or not."  As I wrote on another and since abandoned site: "This is the Internet I believe in: access to a backlist forever, from anywhere, at any time. An Internet for individuals as well as the swarm of the moment."

Maybe I don't go viral, but who wants to be a disease? I'd like to have readers, even lots of readers, who (by the way) really aren't the same as "clicks."  But in the end I write because that's what I do, that's been my purpose.  The Internet publishes it, for any reader in the world to find.  Anytime.  Now....or in the future.

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