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Inflation is out of control, we’re holding emergency summits with the Russians to avoid all-out war, and the Bengals and 49ers are surprising teams for the NFL playoffs. Happy New Year and welcome to 1982!
Or is it 2020 again, with the endless bickering over the presidential election and treacherous attempts to reverse its outcome, plus the push of omicron disrupting our lives again and further delaying the return to ‘normality’? ? The news this week is about postponed returns to the office, bringing schools online and returning empty grocery store shelves. My New Year’s resolution is to avoid hoarding toilet paper, but my willpower has its limits.
I’m a sucker for new beginnings, an eternal Micawberian optimist that things “will work out,” but I confess to having greeted 2022 with an unusual case of unease. And as I suspect is the case for many of you reading this, it’s not necessarily the “Blessed One” I’ve struggled the most with in our ritual “Happy New Year” declarations. This is the “New” part, which rings hollow, if not mocking, in this month of January. Is there really anything new?
It’s like you’ve excitedly pulled out your new, so full of promise, 2022 diary only to find all the old bullshit already cluttering the pages, including plenty of crossed-out events and question marks thwarting your plans. People talk about Groundhog Day, but could it be Groundhog Year?
Let’s go back to the Russians massed on the Ukrainian border: it’s an own goal if there ever was one. Many smart people were warning us in the mid-1990s that NATO’s eastward expansion would only destabilize Europe in the long run, and that the West should not go too far in its moment of victory. . The Soviets under Gorbachev unilaterally laid down their arms and withdrew from Eastern Europe, and in return for reluctantly embracing German reunification, they received assurances that NATO weapons would not would not move to the former Warsaw Pact nations. However, Moscow really needed better lawyers, because they never got anything in writing, and here we are. We, the winners, exploited our advantage to the maximum, as if it were indeed a negotiation of a commercial contract. And, as with the Treaty of Versailles after another kind of conflict, the results of such triumphant pride were always going to be more instability and conflict down the road.
I don’t think we should go to war to interfere or reverse over a millennium of Russian-Ukrainian interconnection (think of the nervousness we felt when Cuba allied with the Russians, and Cuba is nowhere also closely related to us). I realize you can’t express such feelings without being called a Putin apologist, but the fact is there would be no Putin, no time loop in our dealings with Moscow, no threat imminent for Ukraine in a more viable and secure post-cold context. System of war, without the ahistorical arrogance of those decision-makers in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet Union that brought us to this moment. We are Dr. Frankenstein to this heinous dictator.
Future Tense is about the future, but the past still gets in the way. And sometimes (like with Putin and Ukraine), we put it there by failing to move forward and innovate new approaches under new circumstances. And of course, the more time and energy we spend dealing with yesterday’s damage, the less time and energy we invest in the future. Don’t look up received mixed reviews as a movie, but there’s no denying the Netflix hit was perfect as a timely parable. And we could very well use another parody of our political culture called don’t look ahead.
If our public life seems caught in a time loop, I wonder what you, readers, think technology has in store for us to rekindle our hopes for progress and help refocus our attention on what’s next. You know, beyond that, the iPhone 27, 8G and 10K TVs (not that we’re against any of those!).
Please let us know what you are tech excited about in this new year, what we are doing, any current unease aside, sincerely wish it to be good for all Future Tensers.
Here are some stories from Future Tense’s recent past:
I would have liked to publish this
“A glimpse of the future of Disneyland? Disney may one day project 3D images for individual guests” by Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times
The future recommends
Martin Luther King Jr. weekend is usually when most of us start to drop or roll back our lofty New Year’s resolutions, so it’s a good time to read. Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Olivier Burkeman. I must confess that I picked up this book (named the average human lifespan) when it came out last year looking for productivity hacks in a relentless quest to get the most out of every hour and of each week. But instead of being another whimsical work of porn org, Burkeman’s book is a surprisingly contemplative blowback on the whole thing of conquering your inbox while meditating in the early hours before running triathlons and running triathlons. learn- Genre Mandarin-in-evening. It’s hopeless to stay on top of everything, Burkeman confesses in his engaging and liberating account, which details how technology only makes him more desperate – and that’s OK. Finitude and choices are good too, the things that make life live. four thousand weeks is thought provoking and very well written in the context of our pandemic experience.
And then: to be determined
On this week’s episode of Slate’s Technology Podcast, Lizzie O’Leary and CNBC Health and Science Correspondent Meg Tirrell discuss why we still don’t have COVID vaccines for children under 5. Last week, Lizzie spoke to podcast host Rebecca Jarvis The stall and ABC News’ chief business, technology and economics correspondent, on the verdict in the Elizabeth Holmes trial and the lessons Silicon Valley could (could!) learn from Theranos.
Events to come
Join Future Tense and Issues in Science and Technology at 6 p.m. EST on February 2 for the second edition of our Science Fiction/Real Policy book club, where we’ll discuss Malka Older Infomocracy and its implications in the real world. The book club will have breakout rooms (they’re fun and stress-free, we promise) where we can all compare notes and share reactions, even if we haven’t finished the book! RSVP here.
Future Tense is a partnership between Slate, New America and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy and society.