Living In The Future We Were Sold

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

We’re living in the future, and it’s lousy.

So-called AI is just Ultra-Clippy being shoehorned into everything that will temporarily goose stock prices. We’ve got computerized cars that allow us to bluescreen while driving, and universal automated cars are many dreams and lawsuits away. Phones gave us something like Star Trek gadgets, but we’re using them to become depressed by doomscrolling. I could make a comment on the Cybertruck, but honestly, that seems pointless.

We’ve got a lot of things that we think are futuristic, and a lot of them are lame, terrible, pointless, or have side effects. Plus you know, we’ve got climate change, Nazis, and pandemics as well.

The future isn’t what it used to be? No, the problem is we’re living in the future we were sold.

A lot of our futuristic ideas derive from popular culture, but that popular culture has nothing to do with what we can, should, or even may want to do. A lot of or popular culture is what people could sell us or what worked in media of the time. It has nothing to do with the possible or the necessary.

AI? It’s easier to just have Hunky Space Captain talk to the computer, because no one wants to watch someone scroll on a monitor. Besides, it sounds cool. Also if you’re bored eventually the computer can try to murder people as part of the plot, a real horror film twist. But do we need it?

Automated cars are a dream, especially if you’ve ever driven . . . well, anywhere. It’s a dream that’s cool and convenient and doesn’t have messy people, and looks awesome in films. It doesn’t deal with the reality that driving needs a moral actor to make decisions, even if you’re paying them by the mile. Also it doesn’t deal with outages, software updates, and crashes.

Then there’s our phones, our pocket computers. This is a totally understandable dream of course, going back to hand-held sci-fi gizmos and communicators. It’s just we never asked how we’d misuse them, as if people won’t find some weird use for technology five seconds after inventing it.

All of these are things we’ve seen in pop culture media since the 60’s (and I’d argue a lot of what we’re living in is very 80’s). But it’s not stuff from speculative fiction or deep analysis or asking hard questions of what we want and need in the future. It’s stuff that was fun to put into movies, tv, and comics.

That’s it. For many of us, the future we envision is something that was marketable.

So of course all the backfire we’re experiencing is a surprise. We weren’t buying a warning, we were buying a cool experience.

“A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam,” said Fredrick Pohl. Indeed it should. It’s just sometimes the warnings don’t sell – and other times people think the warning is cool (see many a stylish dystopia with lots of leather for no reason).

So much of the future that people want – or are trying to sell us at least – seems to just be whatever was laying around in pop culture for a while. It doesn’t have anything to do with speculation, or possibility, or what we need. It’s what many of us assume the future is supposed to be because we bought it.

But what is the future we really want and need? The struggle is to find that, and perhaps in this time where the future we bought is failing us, we have a chance to find it.

Steven Savage

The Alarms Made Us Deaf

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

I give up on cautionary Science Fiction.

I was having a discussion with my good friend and author Serdar about cautionary SF. The more we discussed it the more I realized we haven’t listened to it, and have become numb to it.

We’re heading towards not-AI-but-close in control of techbros while everyone has our data. The Forbin Project and assorted Cyberpunk novels warned us, and no one paid attention.

Ecological disaster? Been done. What, am I going to read another book or watch another movie, maybe get depressed at a rewatch of Silent Running? I can just look outside, I mean I’m in California?

Political meltdown? Been done, albeit crappily many times, over and over again. No one listened, and a few people think social collapse means we all wear more leather and ride motorcycles.

People sounded the alarm in fiction over and over again and it’s gotten old. The old messages are still relevant in all the classics anyway. We’ve become numb because everyone said what had to be said, and they keep saying it, and worse not in new ways.

Besides, for a cautionary tale I can just read the news. We’re in a constant life lesson we’re pretty bad at learning.

So you want to save the world, change the world, protect the world. Good, someone has to because too many politicians are ignoring the world burning down and would-be geniuses are creating cell phones for hamsters. You’re probably not doing it with cautionary SF as, well, it didn’t work and the messages are oversaturated. That’s if people even listened as opposed to deciding your Hellish Futurescape is cool.

Maybe try a vision instead.

Give me fiction of a better world and the struggle to get there.

Give me a dream of better, of kinder, of smarter, of what we deserve. Give me something to fire my feelings and my imagination and my soul. Kindle a flame with your words and your images and your dream – and let me share that dream.

Give me a blueprint, something, to get there. A signpost might be all I need, or a compass, or a basic map. Set me off, I’ll figure the specifics on the way there.

Yes, maybe give me caution. But do it in a way that keeps me on the path and heading for that future.

We heard all the alarms. They’re still going off. We can’t hear them very well.

But show me where to walk to a place worth going to, and maybe I’ll hear them again, warnings on my journey to something worth traveling to.

Steven Savage

They Don’t Care, I Don’t Care

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

The modern media sphere is a strange space. We’re overwhelmed with some great stuff on way-too-many streaming services. Potential hits like “Coyote Vs. ACME” are being killed by tax purposes. AI art controversies are everywhere, to the point where “bad AI” is an insult.” Some once-beloved figures are revealed on social media to be complete numpties (my new favorite insult). When you just want to watch something for fun, it all seems a bit weird.

What I find is that, more and more, I feel like I care less about media.

There’s so much B.S. that it feels like all media executives and no small amount of other people just don’t give a damn about making neat stuff. It’s tax writeoffs and script changes to extend a season and sudden cancellations and number tweaking. Look, I’m not going to act like a lot of media has been high art, but it feels like the amount of people in media who don’t care is high or has always been higher than we’d like.

Then it makes me hard to care either.

This feels weird. My fiancee recently watched Resident Alien which, though I didn’t get into, was a delightful mix of Northern Exposure and My Favorite Martian – if the Martian was really sort of a jerk. She also started Ripley, which has a compelling film-noir-meets-Bergman vibe that surprised and delighted me. This is just the last few weeks, there’s great things out there in the media.

But any of these wonders could vanish in a moment because of some bad executive decision. They could be archived because of obscure tax codes. Someone might get recast with an “edgy” actor who will then drown in scandal like everyone predicts. Without things on hard media, good things can disappear.

It’s just hard to care when so many people with power and money don’t, or even seem actively hostile to what they’re supposedly doing (Warner Brothers). Why care when they don’t and might destroy something to get a stock bump?

At the same time, I look at zines I read, obscure films and up-and-coming mad geniuses like Mike Cheslik. These are made by people who care and that leads me to care, because there is something about enjoying media that requires both parties to give a damn. I think one reason people will enjoy even sleazy exploitation flicks and bad b-movies is the people behind them cared in some relatable way.

Someone who wants to pay the bills and slam out a film with the proper percent of explosions and dinosaurs I can at least get, you know?

So here I am, surrounded by truly great things I take time for – Dune II, Delicious In Dungeon – but I wonder how many other people care less now, or who’s interests have changed. Reach out to me and let me know your experiences.

Steven Savage