The future in the rear-view mirror

The best way I’ve found to describe Breaking Smart, a set of essays that you can read online for free, is that it explains how Silicon Valley thinks. Given the importance of Silicon Valley in the world economy, that alone is a sufficient reason to make it essential reading. Of course it does not mean you have to agree with everything it says, neither do I.

One of the essays in Breaking Smart has the intriguing title “the future in the rear-view mirror“. At the core of the idea is that people look at the future through the lens of the past, actually almost always through the lens of an idealized past that never really existed.

The interesting aspect of this is that when we feel that the world is falling apart, that our collective present is not living up to our expectations, it does not mean it’s actually the case:

Much of our collective sense of looming chaos and paradises being lost is in fact a clear and unambiguous sign of positive change in the world. By this model, if our current collective experience of the human condition felt utopian, with cultural elites extolling its virtues, we should be very worried indeed. Societies that present a facade of superficial pastoral harmony, as in the movie Stepford Wives, tend to be sustained by authoritarian, non-pluralistic polities, hidden demons, and invisible violence.

Venkatesh Rao, Breaking Smart