If one looks at science fiction over the past thirty years, one sees a shift in tone from the hopeful optimism that science and technology will help humanity achieve its great potential, to one where science and technology is one of the dark horses of the apocalypse that is bringing doom and desolation to humanity. Many are concerned and questioning why there is such a shift in tone that science fiction has taken. A number of factors have contributed to this sense of darkness including:
(1) Technological Displacement: There are an increasing number of individuals who feel like they are being left behind with the rapid changes in technology. Whether it is the advances in biotechnology or the rapid accumulation of data for business use, technology is facilitating rapid changes in social norms.
(2) Personal Displacement: While technology has, on one hand, made individual’s lives significantly easier, it has also created much psychological confusion within individuals. As technology becomes increasingly better than its human counterparts, individuals are beginning to wonder both consciously and subconsciously, what is their purpose in life.
(3) Social Displacement: In addition to the core of what makes an individual fundamentally shaken due to technological displacement, we‘re also seeing dramatic changes within the overall structure of human society. With increasing inequality between the rich and the poor, and the dramatic decline of the middle class, this has created significant unease and anxiety in society wondering where they belong.
(4) The Future Is Here… Isn’t It?: The future that was promised by the science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s is partially here, but the results have been less than stellar and disconcerting for humanity. Computers, which were supposed to provide us with more leisure time, seem to have done the exact opposite and even exacerbated the amount of work and the speed at which it has to be processed.
(5) The Revenge Against The Revenge of the Nerds: With the dawn of the Internet age, there has been a sense that society is moving towards a revenge of the nerds utopia where science and mathematics rule. While this is a positive development over the long term, it is one that is also breeding a sharp divide in society where those who are truly comfortable with science and mathematics are still in the minority. This is demonstrated with the growing shortage of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates occurring globally.
(6) Displacement Of Gut Instinct: Call it luck. Call it fate. Call it gut instinct. Call it faith. Whatever you call it, human instinct has guided human civilization for centuries and individuals continue to believe that they can control their destiny. With the continued development and growth of Big Data and predictive analytics, there is an increasing unease in the general populace that their lives are increasingly being managed along a predetermined course and that very little can be left to chance. If this is the case and our individual behaviors can be predicted, it begs the question what is the meaning to individual human existence?
With the general unease that has built up in society and thus reflected in the science fiction narrative, one must wonder whether or not it can be moved to a more hopeful narrative. For humanity to truly continue to advance we must bring hope back not only into society, but into our storytelling as well. Science fiction is one of those critical genres in storytelling where hope must prevail.
For many of today’s scientists and engineers, the hopeful vision from legendary science fiction series such as Star Trek and Star Wars is what inspired them to pursue careers in science and engineering. The question now becomes what can be done to change the narrative from negative to positive when exploring the realm of science fiction?
Unfortunately, as many in the entertainment community would attest, science fiction, as with many other genres in the entertainment industry, is strongly influenced by the events around them. Indeed, entertainment is merely a reflection of society and thus it is society that needs to change. How will we execute said change is discussion for another time but one of critical importance. Without hope in science fiction, we are doomed to the dreaded dystopian future that seems to pervade science fiction today.