Futureshock can be deadly: Part One.

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WORDS: Ian Hobson

I first became aware of the term ‘Futureshock’ as a bairn in the late 70s and early 80’s. ‘Tharg’s Futureshocks’ was a weekly series of one-off stories in 2000AD magazine. Back in a time when the turn of the millennium was still far enough in the future to warrant stories that were sci-fi. Tales of how the future might be a bit bloody weird and how it might do your head in if you weren’t careful. I

It also made an appearance in the comic’s most famous story, ‘Judge Dredd’, where in the mega-cities of the 21stC, it was common for people to succumb to extreme Futureshock and ‘Go Futsie’, roughly analogous to the late 20thC term ‘going postal’ based on an unusual number of cases of US postal workers becoming so murderously disgruntled that they took to climbing up high places, armed with rifles, and attempting to see how many passersby they could shoot.

In Judge Dredd, Futsies did much the same, but maybe with lasers. But the underlying cause was due to going homicidal as a response to the inherent craziness of living in a massive city where most people were unemployed, living on a basic allowance, as the vast majority of work was done by robots, and crime was rife, despite the draconian law enforcement of the more-than-a-little-bit-fascistic Judges. Who sometimes went into full-on fascist mode and declared themselves equivalent to gods-on-earth, emulating Ancient Rome, but with wifi. I digress. You get the idea. Even if you’ve never heard of 2000AD Magazine. People go mental ‘cos modern life is ridiculous.

Turns out the phrase has been around since the 60’s when some academics noticed how the rate of technological change in the 2thC seemed to be making a lot of folk a bit twitchy. Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner take credit for first use of the phrase in 1963, when it was recognised by Alvin and Heidi Toffler who went on to write a bestselling book explaining and exploring the concept, published in 1970. I suspect anyone who was around during the Industrial Revolution might have recognised some of the issues too. It’s a neat phrase, you get what it is trying to mean pretty much straightaway when you hear it. The future can be shocking. The shock of the new and all that jazz.

It seems like something that would be more likely to affect the older members of a population more than the young. With age, people tend to remember their youth with fondness, associating the events of those years with a time free of geriatric aches, when everyone had loads of energy an enthusiasm and life generally seemed more optimistic and worth living. Not like kids these days. Everything used to makesense back before it all went pear-shaped. Even nostalgia isn’t what it once was. It’s a concept that’s been partly absorbed by our culture. It gave rise to the idea that the pace of modern life is simply too fast these days, and that by slowing down, we can make ourselves happier. But a crucial aspect of the idea put forth by the Tofflers (and those who have subsequently developed it) is that futureshock isn’t just related to the pace of life, it’s the rate of change that causes the bother.

In the 50 years since the book was written, things have continued to change, and the rate of that change has continued to accelerate in many regards, though not as fast as some would have hoped in a lot of ways. Instead, there’s a sort of rearguard action going on, where the neophobic tendencies of those who were doing quite nicely in the past have risen to the fore and been manipulated in what seems like an attempt to not only slow down the rate of change, but to reverse it. Haunted Victorian pencil anyone?

So I’m going to try and put down some thoughts about how this idea is relevant to what I see going on around me in 2019. In particular how the subtle and not-so-subtle effects of Futureshock might be playing a role in the socio-political polarisation that seems to be on the increase at the moment. You never know, might even come up with some half-arsed ideas as to how the negative effects might be ameliorated. But divvent ha’ad yer breath like. Middle aged weirdos waffling on at length via the interwebs isn’t something Tharg gave any pointers about, but to paraphrase the green fella himself: ‘Borag Thung Earthlings, stay Zarjaz’.