Living in the future

There’s a good inter­view with the writer War­ren Ellis in the Paris Review. In it he talks about many things, not least the future of cities:

When I have my pes­simistic head on, I think that every­one can see the future of cities com­ing down the road, and the peo­ple who will be able to afford to live in the secured arcol­o­gy-like com­mu­ni­ties are just as afraid of it as the peo­ple who’ll be out­side, wan­der­ing around in fail­ing infra­struc­ture and won­der­ing exact­ly when the social con­tract dis­solved.

I’m a huge admir­er of Ellis for the way he thinks; like Rus­sell Davies, who I esteem equal­ly, he has a way of con­sid­er­ing things that don’t seem at all obvi­ous until he says them.  One of the most inspir­ing pas­sages I’ve read in many years came from Ellis’ keynote address to the Improv­ing Real­i­ty con­fer­ence:

Under­stand that our present time is the fur­thest thing from banal­i­ty. Real­i­ty as we know it is explod­ing with nov­el­ty every day. Not all of it’s good. It’s a strange and not entire­ly com­fort­able time to be alive. But I want you to feel the future as present in the room. I want you to under­stand, before you start the day here, that the invis­i­ble thing in the room is the felt pres­ence of liv­ing in future time, not in the years behind us.

Those sen­tences came to mind today as I remem­bered this: we live in a world where I can speak out loud to a com­put­er and tell it I want to go to a spec­i­fied des­ti­na­tion, and my house can detect when I’m leav­ing and send a dri­ver­less car around to pick me up and take me there, and lock itself up secure­ly after I’ve left.

All of this tech­nol­o­gy exists; it’s just not joined up yet. It’s the stuff of sci­ence fic­tion, yet because it came piece­meal we tend to treat it as fair­ly unex­cep­tion­al. But some­times I remem­ber that we’re liv­ing in an amaz­ing future, and it ren­ders me momen­tar­i­ly awestruck.