The future is a scary place. The internet might destroy our industries. Robots might take our jobs.
So much of human existence is about control. We yearn for control. It dominates the way we manage our professional, personal and romantic relationships. When we establish routines in our life – that’s about control. When we manipulate other people – that’s about control. When we change our image – that’s about control.
Humans are tiny creatures in a vast, complicated and unpredictable world, so it makes sense that we should strive to maintain control of our environment.
That’s why the future is so scary – because it threatens our control. After years of hard work and setbacks, we’ve finally managed to bring some sort of order to our life – and now the future has to go and spoil everything.
As a professional journalist, I have an intimate understanding of how scary the future can be. The internet has severely damaged the business model of media companies. The result has been mass redundancies. Now, there are fewer journos being paid less money to churn out more work. As much as I love journalism, I wouldn’t want any of my (hypothetical) children to follow in my footsteps.
So I’m able to empathise with people who feel that the best way to adapt to the future is to stop it happening in the first place.
The problem, though, is that you can’t stop the future.
Whenever I think of future-deniers, I’m reminded of King Canute and the Luddites.
Canute took his throne to the beach and ordered the waves to stop washing onto the shore. As for the Luddites, they believed that if they could just smash enough of the newfangled machines that had started to appear in England in the early 19th century, the economy would go back to the way it was before the Industrial Revolution.
The future is as irrepressible as those waves. And no matter how many people can be mobilised to smash machines, they will never be able to destroy all of them, or the science behind them.
If your job is threatened by the future, don’t make the mistake of fighting it. No matter how militant the typewriter unions were or how vocal the typewriter lobbyists, nothing was going to stop consumers switching from typewriters to computers. It must have been awful for the many people who were employed to build, repair or sell typewriters, but the future always gets what it wants.
The same goes for people whose jobs have been moved overseas. Don’t believe the politicians who say they can bring those jobs back: they’re gone and they’re never returning. The powerful economic forces that sent the jobs overseas can’t be legislated out of existence.
At the risk of sounding glib, the only productive attitude towards the future is to regard it as an opportunity rather than a threat. We can’t control it. We never have and we never will.
The future is a magical place. The internet will create countless economic opportunities. Robots will make our lives immeasurably better.
[Bonus read: Sorry, people, but I’m calling you on your bullshit]