Future Shock

Futureshock can be deadly: Part 2

FS 02 cave.jpg

WORDS: Ian Hobson

So how does Futureshock manifest in the weird non-standard socio-politics of the present day? Seems to me that it mostly occurs on an individual level. The effects might make themselves felt on a wider scale, but at it’s root, emotional and cognitive dissonance caused by the rate of change in the world around us is something that happens inside the mind of the individual. Human brains have spent millennia evolving to cope with unpredictability, in order to survive, we need to be adaptable. It’s largely why we’ve thrived as a species. But it’s maybe not a trait that has had to cope with getting to the point where 6 or 7 decades of change have to be accommodated.

For most of human history, we probably didn’t live long enough for the changes to have a massive impact within the timeframe of an individual human’s lifespan. There will have been changes, the drastic climate change in Europe at the back end of the 2nd millennium BCE marked the end of bronze age expansion in many societies. But humans kept on humaning and before you know it there’s romans and roads and writing and everything. I’m sure that to your average member of the Votadini tribe in Tyneside, the arrival of highly regimented Italians came as a bit of a shock to the system.

Round houses became square and wiggly paths became straight roads etc. But even then, though the direction of change might have been unpalatable to many, the rate at which it happened wasn’t so quick that people wouldn’t have been able to understand it. It would have been more the magnitude of the change that was the main issue, not how fast it happened or if it kept happening.

It’s not just big changes, it’s also small, consistent incremental changes. The worst ones being those that creep up on you and you don’t notice them until suddenly, you are the only person in the room who remembers when all this used to be fields. Things that once were, are no longer. Things that still are, seem unfamiliar. Cognitive psychologists have repeatedly shown that humans seem to have a tendency towards ascribing a negative slant onto unfamiliar concepts (Negativity bias). It seems that this is something that may be hardwired into out neural structures, it’s just part of being human.

Though as humans aren’t all the same, it stands to reason that there is a range of different degrees of this negativity bias. Some people have it a bit more than others. Whether that’s a hardwired predisposition that’s been exacerbated by developmental and environmental factors is probably something someone has published on, but I’m not a psychologist, and frankly, despite what I say at the back end of this part of my mega-waffle, I can’t be arsed to check right now. Please feel free to correct me if you think I’m talking shite.

The general gist of what I’m getting at here is that the capacity for experiencing Futureshock isn’t some form of neuropathology. It’s not a reaction to shonky synaptic transmission or anything like that. It’s something that’s hardwired into humans as a result of yonks & yonks of evolutionary selection in an environment where the rate of change, whilst variable, falls within parameters that can generally be dealt with by the individual. Even negativity bias can confer an evolutionary advantage.

‘Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.’ And ‘If you expect the worst, you’ll never be disappointed.’ That kind of thing. It’s something that requires and implies an ability to project thought into the future based on evidence from the past. At a basic level: ‘If I eat this unknown fungus, it will probably make me ill, because the last time I ate an unknown fungus I got ill’. That sort of thinking can be useful in an environment filled with dodgy ‘shrooms. Not sure it’s useful to anyone other than shareholders of companies that publish stuff like the Daily Mail in the setting most of us in the UK find ourselves in right now though. But more of that later.