In this rapidly changing technological landscape, big technology companies like Apple and Meta are presenting us with visions of the future that are hard to ignore. Whether it’s the promise of navigating the world through Augmented Reality (AR) headsets or the race to develop Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), these visions of a transformed future have become increasingly prevalent.
However, it is important to pause and question why Big Tech is so invested in selling us these visions. Historian Jenny Andersson argues that the future is a “field of struggle” in which power dynamics play a significant role. These imagined futures are often imbued with narratives of directionality and inevitability, influencing how we act in the present. For example, Apple’s launch of the Vision Pro headset is not just about selling a product, but also about convincing us that this future is just around the corner, shaping our choices and preparations accordingly.
Moreover, these visions of the future can also reshape our understanding of the past. Proponents of AI, for instance, argue that we are on the brink of an unprecedented transformational shift in human history. With this looming future in mind, past events are reassessed and sometimes downplayed in comparison. This highlights how imagined futures have the power to reshape our present and our retelling of history.
The battle over our expectations of the future stems from the fact that reshaping our imaginations can align our interests with those of Big Tech companies. They seek to convince us that their vision of the future is the best way forward, ensuring their products and agendas are at the forefront. However, as different as these technological visions may seem, they all follow a similar logic – the belief that the next breakthrough is the future.
To break free from this cycle, it may be useful to reconsider our understanding of the future. Political philosopher Hannah Arendt warned against solely equating the future with scientific and technological advancements. Instead, she proposed reimagining the future as a collective decision to reshape political and social life for the better.
One way to do this is to look back at historical imaginings of the future, which have often been forgotten or overlooked. By incorporating these fragments into our contemporary context, we can explore alternative ways of envisioning the future. This includes examining how historical figures and movements, such as messianic religious groups, imagined radical transformations. By recovering and reassembling these visions, we can resist the ways in which Big Tech shapes our expectations for the future and influences our present navigation and memories of the past.
In reimagining the future, we have the opportunity to open new possibilities beyond the confines of the next technological breakthrough.