Looking back on the 11 months of Pastry Box posts, around 5,000 words, I’ve been trying to find some sort of pattern to what were short essays on typically whatever idea was formost in my mind as that month’s deadline loomed.
A lot of the ideas I’d been thinking about for a long time. A number I’d presented on, while one or two, particularly August’s thoughts on digital artefacts, more or less popped into my head, but is obviously influenced by “The New Aesthetic” (which has been something of an obsession of mine since James Bridle’s “Waving at the Machines” presentation at Web Directions in 2011). Curiously just the other day I found reference to an essay by Brian Eno from 1996 that discussed this same idea. So, I’m only 14 years behind the times on that one.
So, is there a pattern? I think almost all of these pieces are about the future, and what it might look like. Even my piece from October “Ancient History” is really about the future. And how, in the famous formulation by George Satayana, we are doomed to a future that is essentially like our past, unless we learn from that past. Which prompts me to ask why I seem so concerned with the future?
Well, for one, who isn’t?
But what I think makes the future more pressing for me, who in previous generations (and I’m sure by at least some of you out there) would be considered “middle aged” is that I have a young family, and a daughter due to be born within a few weeks of this being written. This daughter, if she lives the average life expectancy for a child born now, will live to be 100. When her grandparents were born, that expectancy was much closer to 70 years.
So, my daughters, and their generation, have a lot of the future in front of them.
When I was growing up, the future looked like colonies on Mars, and holidays in space, and flying cars, and jetpacks, and video phones. We kind of got video phones, and no one really cares all that much about those.
The future we didn’t know about, or didn’t think much about was AIDS, and massive population growth, and global climate change, and the fall of the Soviet Union (many of you won’t have even known a time when the Soviet Union existed, let alone posed (supposedly) the greatest existential threat to humanity).
The future I talk about in these Pastry Box pieces is pretty trivial by comparison. If there’s anything among them that aspires to be more than just a few thoughts about the next few years, it’s the idea that the technologies of the web provide us with the opportunity to be more honest with ourselves, as individuals, about our actions (what we eat, drink, buy, how we act, where we travel) and their consequences, for ourselves, and for the billions of others on our planet, and as a civilisation, as a planet as a whole.
We face monumental challenges to our very existence as a species. So far we’ve been pretty good at sticking our heads in the sand. That time is over.
If we want a future at all, let alone one with jetpacks and holidays in space, we need to start accepting reality, then talking about how to fix the problems that are essentially of our own making.
And thank goodness we have the web, and the ability to communicate across borders, and language and cultural barriers at this time. Because without that I honestly believe we’d have no hope at all.