Yesterday I tweeted that I had “never knowingly read any science fiction”. I was quickly, and entertainingly, proved to be very wrong, but I stand by the “knowingly” part of that sentence. I have never knowingly picked up a book and read it because I thought it might speculate about the future.
In fact, I’ve spent most of my reading career stuck in the past, excavating evidence about obscure lady novelists, hanging round the Charing Cross Road and, latterly, ordering unloved paperbacks from Abe Books. I’ve not become a wholehearted ereader yet, because lots of the things I want to read aren’t available there – and I probably won’t until I can digitise my own library and hang around the second-hand Kindle stalls. In short, I’ve got a reading crush on the minor novelists from the mid-20th Century that I don’t feel inclined to cure.
But yesterday, I was working at my dining table, listening to the echo of the Playful Twitter stream. Someone was talking about the way my generation has been shaped by 70s sci-fi – jet packs and hover boards. And there was I, sitting at home surrounded by book cases filled with the hundreds of books that an English graduate collects along the way, and I couldn’t – until it was pointed out to me – think of a single book that I had read that might fall into the category of sci-fi.
Despite the fact that I was born in 1973, the thing I liked most about the Star Wars trilogy was the Ewoks. I was probably nine or ten when I saw Return of the Jedi, and I thought those bears were really cool. But I stopped caring about bears shortly after that – by 1985, I was putting up Michael Jackson posters and learning the words to “Get in to the Groove”. It just didn’t hit a sweet spot. If I’d spent my teens mooning over the Ewoks, it would have been likely that there was something wrong with me. So that was that. I moved on.
And during my teens I read books by the bucketload – consumed the contents of my local library in an attempt to find out who I might be, did a degree that surveyed English literature from 1300 to the present day. So it turns out that I’ve read lots of the classics of future gazing – I’ve even sweated academic blood over Mary Shelley’s futurology – but the thing I’ve found attractive about them has never been the glimpse of the future they’ve shown. It’s been the turn of a sentence, a sentiment, an idea, the world (filled with people) they have created.
The reason I mention this, is that I spend quite a lot of time feeling puzzled by the Hipster Tech that emerges from the offices round Old Street, made by young-ish men preoccupied by Making the Future Now. And I’m aware that there’s a reference point I don’t share – a reference that I imagine comes from the pages of Neuromancer or the mind of Philip K. Dick.
And I’m bothering to write this down because I think I’m one of the many. Perhaps not one of the many who seeks out inter-war comedies of manners, but one of the many who doesn’t spend their life gazing into an imaginary future-past. And if we’re supposed to be making the products of the future, they need to be things that matter to people who’ve never seen Blade Runner. So I guess what I’m saying is that Hipster Tech is the imaginary future of the few, and there’s another – more useful – technology that is the future of us all.
(And yes, you did read that right. I’ve never seen Blade Runner.)