William Gibson on aging futurism

In the latest Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, William Gibson talks in depth about his terrific new essay collection, Distrust That Particular Flavor, and explains how he feels about doomsaying by elderly futurists:

“Futurists get to a certain age and, as one does, they suddenly recognize their own mortality,” Gibson says in the Wired premier of The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And they often decide that what’s going on is that everything is just totally screwed and shabby now, whereas when they were younger everything was better. It’s an ancient, somewhat universal human attitude, and often they give it full voice.”

Why William Gibson Distrusts Aging Futurists’ Nostalgia, MP3 link


  1. Well, based upon the quote I’d have to say he’s right, but we humans tend to externalize ourselves in everything we do — it applies to aging futurists, young techno-optimists, and just about everyone in between. It seems to be baked into what it is to be human.

    I think the best thing we can do is just realize it in ourselves and others, and take just about everything that is said (even by ourselves to ourselves) with a big grain of salt.

    Above point not withstanding.

  2. “And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
    Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe.

    “Richard, you haven’t really changed,” I said,
    “It’s just that now you’re romanticizing some pain that’s inside your head.”

    – The Last Time I Saw Richard, Joni Mitchell

  3. “When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint”.
    –Hesiod, 8th century BC

    Hahahaha!  In before Antinous!

  4. Oh, I don’t know about that.  The world, while facing some major problems, seems to be getting better: renewable energy is coming online at a hell of a clip, people (modulo some corporate funded exemptions) look at this planet as one, the lethality of war is diminishing, hell even South Africa got a black President before we did!

    I’m 55 – when does the grumpy old fart stage kick in?

    1. Right, and what about those of us who’ve faced death and have confronted our own mortality at younger ages?  Are we also going to be pessimistic naysayers of the future?  Nope, not really.

          1. no troll.  You’re lying to yourself, if you think you’ve confronted death.  At best, you’re good at ignoring it.

          2. I just realized you must be a ghost who’s already died. No wonder you’re the only expert on death. My bust.

          3. @google-980228958e2e68566a2bb19adaca0aaa:disqus 

            How do you define “confronting death” and what gives the elderly a monopoly on this?

            Please enlighten me as a person who has had to cope with multiple, near-death experiences for myself including one that sent me to a wheelchair for a while…  and a loved one who has been on death’s door for the last 3-4 years where many nights I have to come to terms with the fact it may have been the last day I ever see this loved one again especially after watching this person go completely unresponsive in my arms at the hospital… and I guess this loved one is too young to appreciate death and mortality as well?

            Oh, and past deaths of family and friends surely didn’t educate me… and maybe also one of my marine friends who lost his entire platoon in Iraq and has permanent injuries from a fall out of a helicopter?  Is he also too young and naive to “confront death” or “his own mortality”?

            Where’s the specific age that this true appreciaton of death and mortality kicks in? 80 years old?

            It’s a shame so many younger people who’ve died before that age can’t ever appreciate nor confront death.

            Please, enlighten all us liars.  :/

          4. I didn’t say anything about old people confronting death.  No one comes to terms with their own mortality, old or young.  Some people just think they have.

          5. This is you, right?

            those who say they have confronted their mortality at a young age are called liars

            Sorry, but that implied things against younger people with your own words. You only have yourself to blame for that.

            No one comes to terms with their own mortality

            You’re certainly welcome to your own vague opinions that you apparently think blanket the rest of humanity.

            I’m not sure what your point is, but that’s ok; I’m not sure you know what it is either.

            From what you’re saying, you obviously haven’t come to terms with death nor your own mortality. You’d be better off speaking for yourself in the future instead of projecting your fears onto others.

  5. I’m closely examining the irony in my insistence on ordering this through the only remaining bookstore in my town.

    It’s a kids bookstore that recently added a well-edited section for grown-ups. If they close, I’m moving. 

    But then, I said that about the last record store too. Damn you kids, get offa my lawn!

  6. Yes, many old people get bitter when they think about their own mortality, as lame and tired a joke as that is, but that doesn’t change the fact that the future probably IS gonna be dark and horrible.  Tired cliches about old people doesn’t change that fact.

    1. “So long as we live there is the great peacock-tail of probability, growing from out of the next moment.”

      Konrad Karaghiosis, in Zelazny’s “…And Call Me Conrad.”

  7. Okay, this has really gotten to annoy me. ‘Futurism’ as a movement has already been, it was most popular around Italy in the early 1900’s. Wiki it, it is really fascinating. It has very little in common with the whole Stanislaw Lem Fm-2030 Ray Kurzweil Transhumanism Optimist thingy that seems to be the subject here.

    The entire name of a significant artistic movement has just been randomly coopted into another related, but dissimilar movement!

    I realise this is a largely baseless complaint, as language will adjust over time anyway, but the original futurist movement seems to be entirely forgotten in popular culture now, replaced, and that makes me sad. I guess it would just be nice if people used the word ‘futurism’ with more awareness that it does in fact refer to at least 2 very different movements, both very important in their own right.

    1. I think the more accurate term here is futurology, or future studies according to Wikipedia. However, guys like Pierre Wack and Herman Kahn are apparently referred to as futurists as well as futurologists.

      1.  Exactly, and calling them futurists instead of futurologists or some other equivalent term only strengthens the word’s attachment to this movement, reducing the legitimacy of early 1900’s Futurism.

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