Executive Editor's Letter
The future. A concept that has intrigued and eluded us since the beginning of time. That is why we pore over tea leaves and tarot cards, horoscopes and palm readings, weather forecasts and polling data. Looking to the future is a part of our very nature. Over one hundred years ago, Frederick Jackson Turner posited that the “frontier” is a crucial component of American daily life. At the time, he was referring to the great unconquered territory of the American West, but he recognized that we would continue to require new frontiers to conquer or face the risk of stagnation. Years later, when there was no more territory to conquer, space became that “new frontier.” In many ways, the future is like an endless frontier.
This helps to explain why works from George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale have such a significant and enduring audience. Each represents, in essence, a particular view of the future. Since some of these “futures” are already in the past, we are able to look at them with the benefit of hindsight. Some of these visions of the future were flat out wrong. We never lived in the totalitarian, mysterious, “big brother” run society of 1984 and I hope we haven’t devolved into the dystopia of Fahrenheit 451. On a more light hearted note, we don’t have the flying cars and floating houses that The Jetsons promised us in 1962, despite being only 44 years away from the year in which the show was set. All of these inaccuracies may be humbling for a species that places a great deal of import on being right, and for a generation which maintains its certainty that we have figured everything out, despite the fact that each preceding generation has mistakenly thought the same. A century ago, doctors were not troubled by cocaine in coca cola and heroin in drug stores. In another century, it is exceedingly likely that people will look back on our behavior and assumptions with shock and bewilderment.
At the same time, it is incredible how much these predictors of the future in fact got right. Read Fahrenheit 451 and try not to be awestruck as Bradbury in 1953 describes earbuds with ridiculous, shocking accuracy: “And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind.” However, many visions of the future were neither neutral nor benign. Bradbury noted, “I don’t try to describe the future, I try to prevent it,” a sentiment with which Orwell would likely have agreed. So, some of these visions were the Black Mirror of their times: warnings as well as predictions.
At the end of the day, humans will always be intrigued by what lies ahead. And yet, it is also quite interesting to look back at the ways we once looked forward. That is the theme of this issue -- a retrospective, if you will, on past impressions of the future. And current impressions of the future. You see, the future will always be an impression. We will never know for certain what the future holds because, once we get there, it will no longer be the future.