The 21st century reaches drinking age

from Forbidden Planet (1956)

Here we are, in the 21st year of the 21st century. We have been in old-science-fiction-numbered years for as long as newly-minted adults have lived.

The 21st century! when all is either bright and shiny miraculous tech or long-feared dystopia and post-civilization. Can it be both? Surely. Much of what readers are reading these days is post-apocalyptic, stories of life after some manmade or natural-but-caused-by-man disaster that Earth is trying to heal from.

Of course, as all good science fiction always has been, the stories are really about who we are now, what 100-200-500 years from now will look like if we stay this course, and how humans will interact in that world.

No, not “will,” rather “could.” A wise editor once taught me not to declare that something “will” happen: If you write, “The county fair will be held next month” and the county fair is canceled for whatever reason, circumstances have made you a liar or at least inaccurate. Better to write, “The county fair is scheduled to be held on these dates,” and now your journalism is accurate.

So when we say the future “will” be a tech nightmare where people are oppressed and history is erased, or when we say the future “will” have books burning, or when we say the future “will” have spaceships with hundreds of people inside exploring new worlds and new civilizations — those are only things that “could” happen.

We have the ability to, well, accept the things we cannot change and change the things we can. Now we just need to muster the serenity and the courage and the wisdom to move forward. The real future will be somewhere between utopia and dystopia, as it always has been. Or should I say it “could” be?

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