What is Futurism? What isn’t?

When people hear the word “Futurism”, a number of possible associations may spring to mind. One may be prognostication, which is to say secular oracles telling us what they think will or will not happen in the future. Although some of these people are more rigorous than others in adopting an intelligent, evidence-based approach to their studies, the entire endeavour largely ignores the fact that the human ability to predict the future is disintegrating in the face of accelerating technological change.

Alternatively, by “Futurism” people may think that we are talking about the early 20th Century art movement in Italy, some related phenomenon or other precursor to contemporary concerns. As much as such movements and precursors are often very interesting, they are not what we mean by the term. We also don’t mean anything that is so heavily infused with fantasy elements as to have little bearing on the physical reality we actually live in.

Futurism, as we employ the term here, is a contemporary intellectual, social, and political movement to use technological for positive change. It is a loose and informal nexus of related sub-movements ranging from the philosophical (e.g. Transhumanism, Singularitarianism) to the eminently practical (e.g. Open Source, Cryptocurrency). It is firmly rooted in science and technology at every level, but not limited by the superficial cultural trappings of science

Arts & Culture

Any movement to effect social change will be all the more powerful for employing the latest and most effective technologies, but mass cultural changes also demands messages which will appeal to the culture at large. Art, music, media and social networks of all types naturally trade in the currencies of aesthetics, intuition and habit in lieu of rational decision making, and influence. We Futurists must learn to use these things well, and fast, if we are not to be eclipsed by the various flavours of virulent anti-Enlightenment sentiment that are currently resurgent.

In other words it is all very well and good to prize science and technology over the less rational elements of human culture, but if we can’t turn those elements to our advantage then humanity will miss its one shot at a higher destiny, and we will begin a long, harrowing slide back toward the stone age.

Black Mirrors, Black Celebrations

So… art, music, media and so on sounds obvious enough in the abstract, but what does it look like in practice? If we take a moment to look at the places we most often find futurist themes in modern culture, it is invariably in dark places. That trend most likely started with the cyberpunk literary genre in the 1980s, mirroring the collisions between alternative subculture and electronica in the cases of gothic, electro, and industrial music from then until now.

Online games frequently mirror this dark-futurist aesthetic, which are also increasingly prominent on the screen (from the 1982 movie Blade Runner, through Manga (such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell) and the TechGnostic enthusiasm of 1999-200 beginning with The Matrix, to recent additions such as Mute, Altered Carbon, Blade Runner 2049, and of course the techno-dystopian philosophy of Black Mirror.

In short, there is a huge, readymade audience for the Futurist message, out there. We just have to be ready to go searching for it… in the shadows.