Billionaires popping into space for a looksee, rich politicians testing positive for COVID and immediately getting the latest and greatest treatments, new smartphones that cost more than a teenager’s first beater car… the future is here, friends, but, as Cyberfather William Gibson said, “It’s just not very evenly distributed.”
In the Year of Our Pandemic 2020 (YOP20), some thirty years after America Online paved the streets with shiny CDs and free hours, seventy percent of teachers in high-poverty U.S. schools reported their students didn’t have the tech necessary for remote learning (RAND Education & Labor). Meanwhile, American ruralities can’t get good Internet and, in a classic case of colonizer bullshit, the so-called developed nations are shaming the “developing” nations for developing the same way they did.
“…the meek are blessed, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mathew 5:5). Well, yeah, because the rich, after screwing the joint up, are looking for a way outta here. They’re buying up New Zealand now, but it’s only a matter of time before the One Percent figure out how to live in orbit while still milking the common-people cash cow. We’ve got automated-trucking being tested in the American southwest – great owners, not so great for drivers – but Indonesia’s share of the future is sea-level rise to the point where it has to move its capital from Java to Borneo. At the same time, Indonesian government (note: not the common people) is so worried about keeping up with the Joneses that it’s hedging on its own island-saving carbon-dioxide goals.
Progress has, as ever, been trickle-down and uneven. The Model T Ford appeared on the market in 1908, but it took the post-World War II economy to make the automobile ubiquitous in the United States. Now, absent national power grids and easy clean water, developing nations (rather, recovering-from-colonialism nations) are turning to cellphones and personal solar. A thriving middle class, perhaps the most powerful economic driver of all, is on the move in India and China, long after rising (and falling) in the U.S. Too little, too late.
The future du jour is the same sort of slow apocalypse that I explore in my new novel with Angry Robot Books, Twenty-Five to Life (Aug. 24). In the book, the climate-change tipping point has come and gone, and the Hail-Mary mission to Proxima Centauri is about to launch. Funded largely by the rich and powerful – the colony ships are named after billionaires – the mission is siphoning off the world’s best and brightest and leaving some nine billion people to die gasping. Of those left behind, only the richest have nice views and room to play; the U.S. have-nots either get a tiny studio apartment and a VR hookup or hit the road in barely functioning vans and busses to “Nomadland” out at the end of the world. (Climate-change refugees coming to the States in search of a better life get military-controlled camps, but that’s way too depressing to think about during Pandemic, Part II, amirite?)
This is the future. This is the present. We’ve all seen/read the cautionary tales of the rich taking their balls off planet to leave us down here with an empty court (Elysium, Battle Angel Alita and Neuromancer to name a few). We’ve never achieved anything close to the post-scarcity Star Trek utopia of our Earthling dreams, so expecting it is a fool’s game. At the moment, there are few places for the Musks and the Bezoses of the world to stay once they are up there, but in the future, say, fifty years from now when Boston, Mass. is predicted to have at least ninety days of 90-plus-degree weather a year, maybe.
And you can bet the space bouncer won’t let the rest of us in without a personal AmEx black card and a rich uncle. The future’s not for everyone, after all.
R.W.W. Greene is a New Hampshire USA writer with an MA in Fine Arts, which he exorcises in dive bars and coffee shops. He is a frequent panelist at the Boskone Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in Boston, and his work has been in Stupefying Stories, Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, and Jersey Devil Press, among others. Greene is a past board member of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. He keeps bees, collects typewriters, and lives with writer/artist spouse Brenda and two cats.