William Gibson Thinks The Future Will View Us As A Joke, Here’s Why

By Brent McKnight | Published

William GibsonNeuromancer author William Gibson is a writer known for having a very keen eye for the future, envisioning, among many other things, the rise of things like the Internet and reality television, and predicting mass human behavior. His visions of corporate dystopias where we’re all constantly distracted by technology and have an endless hunger for information, are eerily prescient considering the current state of the world. Given his track record, you can bet that Gibson has ideas on what the future will look like, particularly how they will look back on the here and now, and it’s not all that rosy. Imagine that.

Talking to Mother Jones, Gibson delved into a great many topics, but time travel came up. When asked the ubiquitous “if you could travel anywhere in time” question, Gibson proved to be more interested in seeing how future generations will think of us when they look back through the lens of history than with seeing what fun new toys they develop. He says:

If could have any information from our future, I would want to know not what they’re doing but what they think about us. Because what we think about Victorians is nothing like what the Victorians thought about themselves. It would be a nightmare for them. Everything they thought they were, we think is a joke. And everything that we think was cool about them, they weren’t even aware of. I’m sure that the future will view us in exactly that way.

Technology plays a huge role in Gibson’s work, especially how humans relate to it, and how it impacts our relationships with each other. With the omnipresent specter of technology, like smartphones that let us take music and information and movies and the entire world with us in our pockets everywhere we go, this has, and continues to be a topic of great importance. One of the more divisive bits of tech in recent days is Google Glass, which seems like something straight out of one of Gibson’s novels. He says he tried it once:

For about 20 seconds [laughs] at an event at the New York Public Library last year. Which helped a lot, actually, because I hadn’t been able to grasp it. And then I had lunch with one of the beta testers, and he had happily incorporated it into his life. But he described a couple of quite alarming episodes of public hostility. Total strangers came up to him and gave him a really hard time. Although that’s just the prototype: When a technology like that goes to market, you can buy a pair of your grandfather’s horn-rimmed spectacles that will do all that and no one will ever know. In The Peripheral, there are people who take it absolutely for granted that everybody they meet has all of that technology embedded in their body—and it’s running all the time.

PeripheralWhile Gibson’s work is rife with images of technology that were once fantastic but have, at least in those worlds, become commonplace, it’s not only the next gadget or gizmo that goes through a similar cultural evolution. In his new novel, The Peripheral, which hits bookstores tomorrow, he takes the Cronut, a croissant/doughnut hybrid that people got all crazy about recently, and uses it to illustrate a similar pattern. He says:

I’ve never actually seen one, but last year there were lots of internet stories about people in Manhattan standing in lines around the block to get one of these fabulous hybrid 21st century pastries. So to have it turn up in this near future in a very undistinguished small town somewhere, in the equivalent of Tim Hortons, to me indicates that the trendy hipster cronut has found its way into the mainstream and became this sort of boring, Starbucks pastry that everyone takes for granted.

Who knew that Gibson’s ability to accurately predict future trends extended into the realm of experimental snack foods? But then again, it doesn’t surprise any of us. You should really read this whole interview if you’ve got the time.