I’ve done some research on time capsules to learn what people decide to send forward to the future inside them. I was present for the opening of one time capsule buried at the San Francisco airport, and boy was that disappointing. What I learned is that stuff we think is important will not be in the future, and stuff we don’t think is important now, will be. The most common reaction to opening a time capsule is “why did they save that? Why didn’t they include x, y, or Z, which no one saved?”
My theory is that we tend to collect or save things we are conscious of as having value, and we ignore the material subconscious. We are not even aware that we are throwing these everyday items away because we are not even aware they exist in the first place. We simply don’t see them. Yet it is these invisible, “subconscious” artifacts that will tell the best stories about this time later on.
This is where the archeologists do their research: in the garbage pits. Here they can explore the subconscious of the lost culture.
So if you are going to collect something that you want to be significant in the future, collect things that everyone ignores now. Stuff that is too insignificant to save, that no one in their right mind would save. These “subconcious” things are the ones that will be the most valuable in the future.
Why is the dystopian future always literally dark? Why is it always raining or overcast? Why is the architecture always a mix of hyper-modernism, brutalism and squatter slum? Why is the politics always so transparently totalitarian, so fascist-plus-rebels? Why is it so retro and abstract?
Why doesn’t the dystopian vision ever include sunshine and children playing in its ruins? Why does it not include the constant, untiring efforts of most people to do what they can with what they have to improve their situations? Why are most people in the dystopian future always powerless to change anything? I could go on, but you get the point.
The biggest problem with dystopian fiction is not its pessimism. I do think there’s a serious issue about who’s interests are best served by making people fear the future, but I think the biggest problem with most dystopian fiction is its laziness and derivative quality. Lazy futures act like visionary static, crackling and dirtying the signal-to-noise ratio, making it harder not only for truly insightful futures to be found, but corrupting the ability of normal people to see why those visions are worth understanding.
Kevin Kelly says:
Warren Buffett recently bet an ambitious hedge fund operator $1 million that they won’t beat the returns of S&P 500 after their extremely hefty fees are accounted for. Buffett claims investors will do as well with a no-load index fund over the ten years of the bet. He has long been critical of the performance claims of hedge funds, and his bet is intended to put his money where his mouth is.
Buffett’s million dollar bet was made on Long Bets, the accountability mechanism founded in 2002 by Stewart Brand and myself, and operated by Long Now Foundation. The intention of Long Bets is to encourage responsibility in prediction-making (by keeping a public roster of predictions), to encourage long-term thinking (by offering a opportunity to shape a long-term bet), and to sharpen the logic of forecasting (by recording the logic of predictions and bets.)
In order to make a Long Bet, bettors need to lay out their reasoning. It’s worth reading the two sides’ very short arguments about investing because the two extremes of investment advice are contrasted in them. Buffett, as usual, is stunningly clear in his argument, which ends:
A number of smart people are involved in running hedge funds. But to a great extent their efforts are self-neutralizing, and their IQ will not overcome the costs they impose on investors. Investors, on average and over time, will do better with a low-cost index fund than with a group of funds of funds.