Yesterday, the Observer, followed a long – but not, I think, distinguished – New Year tradition of asking a panel of experts to predict the future. Specifically, their brief was to identify the key developments they expected to take place in the next twenty five years in various fields, ‘from the web to wildlife, the economy to nanotechnology, politics to sport.’
What is troubling about this – and similar – projections is not their proverbial inaccuracy. An AIDS vaccine, driverless cars, the answer to the dark matter question. Who knows if and when they will arrive? The problem is their use of the first person plural.
- ‘We will be sharing videos, simulations, experiences and environments, on a multiplicity of devices to which we’ll pay as much attention as a light switch.’
- ‘I think we’ll be cycling and walking more.’
- ‘We’ll learn more about intervening in our biology at the sub-cellular level and this nano-medicine will give us new hope of overcoming really difficult and intractable diseases.’
What is it about the future tense that makes ‘we’ so attractive? Switch it to the present or the past and the universality it seems to imply would look distinctly forced. Is it not possible that some people might benefit or suffer from these changes more than others? Will the shining rays of the world to come strike us all at the same angle?
Why is it that these predictions always seem to invoke an undifferentiated ‘we’ when the disappearance of social division and inequality is not one of them?