I went to a couple of conferences last week, both, as it happens, on the future. One was concerned with retail and the consumer, the other on the web, technology and design.
Most speakers saw the future as consisting of a lot more of what’s new-ish today. So the internet would not just be on our screens but all over the place, mediating pretty much everything and to amazing effect (specifics were short).
However, I’m not so sure how many more amazing things we’re going to get in this area. We should remember our experience with jet packs and flying cars, or the lack of it.
When we were enjoying rapid and huge improvements in travel times – from trains, planes and automobiles – the future was, understandably, seen as more of the same. Technology was bound to enable us all to go even quicker, leading to excited imaginings about various personal flying machines. But what have been the recent big developments in personal travel? Ryanair and the revival of a nineteenth-century invention that doesn’t even have an engine, the bicycle.
So rather than going on to revolutionise everything, I suspect the web is just about done, and for quite a straightforward reason. We’ve had quite enough now, thank you.
So what might be the new, new thing? Taking a bike-inspired, retroprogressive view, I reckon we’ll soon rediscover the horse. I see a future London covered in a network of horse lanes, with a rose bush blooming on every street corner. Our increasingly redundant shop units will be converted into stables, and three-day eventing will be the new road-race cycling.
I’m only half-joking. The future always ends up being fairly implausible, a fact that I guess will come as a surprise to a great number of those in the future business.
At one of the conferences I heard a quote attributed to Bertrand Russell, ‘the logistician’. Probably a slip of the tongue. But the idea of Russell working at DHL applying himself to route planning and pallet optimisation is appealing. I’m sure he would have been an asset.
We love our nature writing here at The Dabbler, most recently demonstrated by Toby’s recent terrific post on Nan Shepherd. So when I saw this…
I know I'm always going on about Rory Stewart's prose, but this post about the populated countryside is pure magic: http://t.co/nhMuEYAm
— Barendina Smedley (@fugitiveink) September 11, 2012
…(Barendina, when are you going to write for us again?) I naturally clicked through and found myself at Rory Stewart MP’s constituency blog. From his most recent Cumbrian yomp:
It once seemed as though industrialisation would replace the countryside, littering it with brick walls, concrete paths and people. In the 1930s George Orwell gazed horrified at the rotting detritus, the scars, and the smoke spreading across the North. But walking reveals that the last two hundred years has not filled but emptied much of the land. So, on this journey, my walking companions – farmers, and officers from Natural England and the Environment Agency; archaeologists, nuclear activists and painters; school-teachers and doctors; climbers and pensioners – joined me at villages. Between the villages I saw almost no-one. Walking alone, I could note the swathes of Yorkshire fog and cock’s foot grass, or the thick cropped form of an oak stubbornly wedged on an abandoned dyke. I could wonder whether this now marshy field had once been drained by the Romans, or by the monks of Abbeytown, by Mr.Curwen the Georgian improver, or by post-war subsidies; and question why the ragwort was flourishing or why the bracken was turning early. But there was rarely anyone to answer.
Read it all – it’s a thought-provoking perspective as much as anything. For my part, I think it helps justify relaxing planning laws in the countryside, a cause that’s close to my heart.
After reading a few of Stewart’s posts I found myself strangely dismayed: I couldn’t help finding his sensitivity to people, places and history incongruous in a member of what we’ve come to think of as our political class, where we might really wish it would find a home. But perhaps I’m being unfair on today’s MPs?
In any event, one feels sure some wider experiences outside politics are required to write like this and these are certainly in short supply (Stewart, on the other hand, is an army and FO man who spent a number of years – and wore out a lot of shoe leather – in Asia and the Middle East, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan).
Peering once again into the misty future, which I see is still crowded by lifelong political hacks, I predict Stewart will either go very far in politics, or, more likely, nowhere at all – or at least nowhere else. But then his constituents in Penrith and the Border are probably more than happy to keep him to themselves.