The Mayan Calendar ends today. According to those who like such things, that means that it’s the end of the world. That may be so, or it could just be the end of an era. More likely it just means that it’s time to buy a new calendar.
I’m fascinated by the people who continuously foretell the end of the world. These doomsdayers see all the troubles of the world as indications that things are about to go over the point of no return and we will end up spattered all over the universe. While we think of them mostly as being a part of the Western world, they are actually all over the world, they just show it in different ways. None the less, they are there.
What interests me is that these doomsday/apocalypse predictors put their rose colored glasses on to look at history, but take them off to look at the future. In that way, they aren’t that much different from all the “old foggy stories”. You know the ones where the old people talk about how great it was back in the day. These stories are also rose tinted. Yea it was so great back in the day that we drove cars that ran on three gallons to the mile and used leaded gas. Granted even then you could drive cross country on about $50. What we don’t remember is that even at those low prices, wages were equally low and just as much of a burden for low income workers. We also manage to forget that the family values of the “Leave it to Beaver” days were fictitious even then. Not to mention that unless you were white and middle class living in the suburbs, then those times weren’t all that good.
There was a time when we used those rose tinted glasses for everything. The future was going to be great. We’d solve all humanities problems and live in harmony, except for that alien menace. Now most of our future fiction is post apocalyptic, or at least quite dark. Even the stuff that looks at our world now (with the exception of Romance) tends to pick out the darker aspects of our society. Yet the past is still rose tinted.
I have to wonder why this effect has become so prominent? If you ask most people, individually (at least within my experience) you will find that they are optimistic about their own future. Yet in aggregate, we are going to Hell in a handbasket. What makes us think like this? Every generation has insisted that the young’uns are just so rude and technology is advancing way too fast. This is so universally laughed about there must be something to it. Of course as I slowly encroach on old age as well, I find that I’m having a harder and harder time keeping up with technology. I just want the things that I’ve already learned to still be true, so that I don’t have to relearn how to find my favorite TV shows, save things to my computer or even do research.
Taking all of these observations into the creative process can be an interesting exercise in world building. Following the human model, young people are going to learn the new technology faster than older people – which must be why elders try so hard to keep control over the young’uns for as long as they could. But what if you switched things around?
If you set up an alien society that keeps the rose tinted glasses on when looking to the future, but sees the past as some dystopian wasteland that they never want to repeat, would the elders be more willing to put the effort into learning the new tech? Would it be the young who are wish that things stay the same long enough for them to learn them? What other changes would that simple shift have on the society?
They wouldn’t have any historical sites and museums would be somber places of warning. They would replace things even before they broke just have the latest and greatest, because newer is better. For these people, learning the newest thing would be a pleasure. Or perhaps their long term memory would be weak so they would have to learn things over anyway. Loyalty wouldn’t have much of a place in their culture. Mourning would be a relatively short process – probably more intense though. They would keep world records in sport only so that they had a way to measure how well they were doing. Holding a record for too long would be a shame rather than a point of pride.
Would these fictional people still have their end of the world stories? Of course they would, but their stories would be happy tales about what comes next. For them, everything in the future, even the end of the world, is filled with opportunity. Things are better there and they just have to keep moving forward until they get there.
I want to live in the culture. If I want to sell my stories, I’m going to have to stick to the human way. For now, they are my only audience.