Rethinking…creating new norms for how we work.
The “Rethinking…” series will explore some of the standard or traditional ways we do our work and why it’s worth rethinking these norms. They are intended to provide healthy food for thought and inspiration for making small steps towards change in how we work.
Science Fiction as an Influencer
I read a newsletter last year that I can’t stop thinking about.
It is titled, “Your Sci-Fi Future: How did science-fiction predict the metaverse, the race to Mars, and the World Wide Web?”
The author, trend spotter David Mattin, presents a few different arguments about the relationship between science fiction and today’s realities, especially as it feels like we’re already living in the future.
There are two paragraphs that stand out to me, and which I cannot stop thinking about:
“[T]he apparently symbiotic relationship between sci-fi and newly emerging technologies isn’t as new as some people are making out. Google founder Sergey Brin, for example, has long said Snow Crash helped inspire early versions of the product that became Google Earth back in 2004. Tim Berners-Lee even cited the 1961 Arthur C. Clarke short story Dial F for Frankenstein, which tells the story of a global telephone network that gains consciousness, as inspiration for his work on the World Wide Web.
All this has caused some to ask: rather than simply predicting the future, do seminal works of science-fiction help create it? Again, there’s some merit in the idea. When Berners-Lee says he was inspired by Arthur C. Clarke, we should listen. The inspiration that influential technologists take from the sci-fi they read in their youth is surely part of the reason for the weird symbiosis between science-fiction and reality.”
(Bolded emphasis added by me)
I’ve never thought about the influence of science fiction in this way, yet it makes total sense to me.
After all, the reason folks are still working on inventing the hoverboard is because we watched Marty McFly hop on one in 1989 to escape Biff and his friend in Back to the Future II.
This relationship between science fiction and innovation captivated me. I’m intrigued by the idea that the stories we read and watch, which were written by highly creative thinkers, can shape what we choose to invent later in life.
Imagination and fiction turning into inspiration and reality.
The SciFi Future
All of this got me thinking about the sci-fi shows and books I’ve been consuming lately; curious to see if I can spot the next futuristic invention we’ll have during our lifetime.
I thought about The Expanse, Altered Carbon, Cowboy Bebop, Snowpiercer, Dune, Mandalorian, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Snow Crash, and…
The future sucks!
In many of these stories, Earth no longer exists! In its place are dark, industrial, gritty planets that are both real and man-made. There’s a constant scarcity of fresh food, fresh air, and (apparently) decent alcoholic beverages.
So, they lost Earth and just kept moving on.
In other stories, Earth is a fragile rarity of gravity, water (albeit toxic water), and air that lives on the brink of collapse or conquest. Mainly it is a place for the elite who can afford such luxuries.
Flora in its natural habitat is extremely rare. It typically only exists under large domes and personal plant-growing stations.
And you NEVER see wildlife!
These stories assume we won’t have access to natural resources in the future, and paints a picture of post-apocalyptic living conditions that everyone has adapted to.
Won’t this bleak picture of the planet impact our inspiration to preserve the planet?
If fiction helps us create the future, then what do we create when fiction doesn’t write a future for it?
We need better stories.
To create better stories, we need to move away from dystopian depictions of all we stand to lose if no action is taken. We tell these stories more frequently than we think.
Instead, we can focus on stories of all we stand to gain if we take action today, and keep taking action in all the days ahead.
We can paint a picture of the future where we don’t merely avoid disaster, but one in which we’re living better than we are today. Yes, better than we are today.
Even if some of these stories feel far-fetched, that level of imaginative thinking is necessary to inspire the hope, innovation, and mobilization we need to change our current trajectory.
“People won’t rise up and demand solutions they can’t imagine.” – Daniel Hinerfeld, Director, NRDC’s Rewrite the Future
Here are three groups working to imagine and create better stories for the planet we can learn from.
A description of SolarPunk from the website: Solarpunk is all about envisioning a planetary future in which humanity, non-human nature, and technology co-exist in harmony. It can be described as a social movement and a lifestyle, as well as a genre of literature, art, fashion, music, and architecture.
Solarpunk offers a vision of what the future could be, not what it will be.
An excerpt from their call-to-action: This moment is a challenge to writers and other creatives in Hollywood to help shape a new reality. To disrupt oppressive narratives by including stories of all people: Indigenous people, Black people, and communities of color, youth, queer people, women, and elders—the people who are most impacted by climate chaos and who are urging us to imagine and enact bold solutions now. The natural world needs us to be bold too. We need stories to help us understand and care for our ecosystems and other species.
Intro to the below panel on “Beyond Apocalypse: Alternative Climate Futures in Film and TV”: Dystopian horror may be what awaits us if we fail to respond to the climate crisis, but it’s not the only possibility, and a cultural zeitgeist of doom may be inhibiting climate progress. How do we call for rapid transition to a thriving, equitable future unless we can see what that looks like, and understand how we might get there? Entertainment stories can help us avoid the worst and collectively work toward the best of all future worlds.
Now, most of us (all of us?) don’t work in Hollywood where our stories end up on screens across theaters and homes.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have stories to rewrite and retell.
The below prompts can get you started on rethinking the future for your own cause.
Prompts to get you rethinking
Where are you currently telling dystopian stories?
Conduct a quick audit of your website and social media posts. Do they lean towards all we stand to lose if we don’t take action, or all we stand to gain? Earmark those doom & gloom stories for a rewriting exercise.
What does a better future look like?
Get the team together for a series of brainstorming sessions to imagine an alternate future for Earth, where we get most or all of it right. Push beyond where things stand now (the status quo) towards a SolarPunk future where “humanity, non-human nature, and technology co-exist in harmony.” Within that exercise, explore if new solutions or interventions are emerging that can reshape current project plans.
How does a better future feel to you?
I know, it feels really hard to be optimistic these days. As you play around with rethinking the future, explore what feelings surface for you. Do you get even a slight twinge of excitement? If yes, then great! Rethinking the future can help us remain resilient for the long haul of our work and is a helpful exercise to repeat for ourselves and our teams.