Hi! Nice to see you. How you doing?
Seriously: how are you doing? Real question. I’d like to know if you’re contagious before we get within spitting distance.
How am I? How am I ? How are YOU, buddy? HOW ARE YOU—
Anyway. Nice apocalypse, isn’t it? Viral isolation is the perfect disaster for the 21st century: it gives you a month to stock up on groceries, and to avoid it, you have to stay inside and binge TV. But then it sneaks up and kills the people you love.
I’ve been on mandatory social distancing for a week now. It felt like summer break at first: don’t have to go to work, no invitations or appointments. Lots of time to read and code and catch up on shows.
But the landlord still wants the rent check. The groceries are unaffordable or unavailable, and you have to cook them myself now because you can’t trust the drive-through. You can’t trust anyone, in fact, and you can’t touch them, and you can’t go anywhere people are. Before, there was no public space that wasn’t commercial. Now there’s just no public space. Even the libraries are closed.
Of course, we were already isolated and malnourished in front of the TV. This is just the austerity machine going mask-off. This is the prelude to Armageddon. Our sense of separation was humanity’s hamartia , our tragic flaw; now we are trapped in the consequences, pressed forward to our inevitable catharsis.
The deaths are only getting started, here in the USA. The official plan is to delay the apocalypse; we’re going to stretch it out over such a long time that it becomes the new normal. We can all live alone in our homes indefinitely, as long as we don’t have a riot, coup, drone strike, nuclear war, supply chain collapse, market crash, depression, famine, or a bigger better virus.
Things will never go back to the way they were. We talk about the time when we “return to normal”, but normal is like sea level. It changes.
Maybe events will slow down again, in the new era. The first few months of this decade have had plenty of excitement. We might find a new stability, for a while, but it will be a changed world.
Perhaps we’ll be galvanized by this trauma, to form a health-based economy, where all the people of the world toil to find cures to every disease, so none of our citizens should involuntarily die.
Or go the other direction, become a teenage psycho plague colony, a horde of walking bioweapons, untouchable but unstoppable. This appeared to be Britain’s plan only last week. I wonder why they changed their minds? It worked well for them in the past.
Maybe we’ll adjust to being extremely online, and form a cellular hivemind where we communicate entirely in tweets and tiktoks. Spend our time cultivating dance crazes and meme formats. Become viral. Learn to fear the outside, with its invisible dangers. Turn our cities into moon bases and the world into a lifeless desert. Reverse terraforming — we’ve done a pretty good job of it so far.
We have to consider the future again, here at the end of the end of history.
My city is slowly shutting down. The streets are empty except for the occasional dog-walker or cyclist. The stores and restaurants wait breathlessly for each new restriction of operations. Nobody knows what to expect. There are too many variables: elections, oil prices, acts of war, disinformation, insider trading, borders closing in. Over it all the virus hangs, a bleak and ominous cloud, close enough to see but too distant to measure.
When big changes are coming and you don’t even know what to prepare for, it’s easy to spin out and lose your mind. It’s important to find your footing and survey the terrain. It’s good to have tools of futuring.
For instance, I have laid out a few 2x2s for my friends and family lately. Basic futurist praxis: take a choice you have to make, and a problem you don’t have control over, and lay the options on a Cartesian grid. Each quadrant represents a possible reality. Consider the details of each world, consider its likelihood, but most of all consider how you would feel about living in it.
I was going to write about this last week, but attention is precious right now and it felt too much like bullshit. Like corporate doublespeak.
Fortunately, a Quantitative Futurist wrote a Medium post on The Startup (a publication by GrowthSupply.com) : “How Futurists Cope with Uncertainty,” by Amy Webb . If you’ve never seen scenario planning before, it’s a good introduction. But you don’t have to read it right now.
Viewing scenarios from this individualist angle is fine; it’s especially comforting when the greater society seems to have its head up its ass. But individual action won’t save us from global threats.
Our companies and non-profits and nation-states are going to take advantage of this emergency to declare themselves our saviors and thus our rightful rulers. But ultimately these are abstractions, and we don’t have to answer to them. The choices that will make a difference will happen at the level of individual people. People who choose to work together, who choose to see beyond these artificial divisions; to see our people and our planet as one connected organism.
Isolation might protect us, but cooperation is what will save us.
We are about to undergo a singularity of our already singularly social species. Everyone in the world will be touched by this in some way, at the same time. We will be connected telepathically while distributed physically, slowing our use of energy and focusing our collective efforts on defying death. This is the year when we realize the power of the planetary mind, or die trying.
And since our future will be decided collectively, we all have a chance to help craft it. Any little choice, in this liminal time, could ripple out through all of time. Know what future you want to live in, and you might actually create it.
Expand the horizons of your future with the Unhinged Acceleration Assemblage Compasses , as collected here by Jay Springett @thejaymo.
These memes are the dark shadow of the 2x2. They refactor the values of the political compass for the new dangers in the waters ahead. Many of them are scary, or reprehensible. This is also the case for reality.
The ur-meme is this, from Gregory Marks @thewastedworld:
I don’t even know what all those words mean, but I’m glad I put them in my brain. One thing we can be sure of: the land of Business As Usual has sunk into the sea. We must choose a heading, because the storm is closing in.
Thanks for reading,
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