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Writing About the Future

PencilsSo when you’re writing about the future, you simply try to work out what people in that future point will be taking for granted. In The Bone Clocks, there are two future sections. 2025 one is only about 11 years away–there’s just a few gizmos about the place and we’re basically there already. In the 2040s, however, more dramatic changes have taken place.

There’s no more oil–or very little oil left. So you think about what people at that point will be taking for granted about travel, about the ability to hop on airplane and be hundreds of miles away in an hour or two. Or to have a conversation like this one, to speak across a continent–which, in the context of human history, is a profoundly bizarre thing to be doing. An impossible thing to be doing, an unthinkable thing to be doing!

We can take a device out of our pockets and speak to somebody in Auckland on it. And the miracle is that we don’t we see it as a miracle. We’ve only had this skill–to take out a smartphone out and call anywhere on earth–for 10 years, maybe 20. But, already, we take it for granted. It is part of what it means to live in our time.

When there is no more oil to power the system of power stations, which power the electric grid, which we power our devices on–we will no longer take it for granted that we can do it. It will be something that our grandchildren will marvel at–my grandfather lived in a world when you could phone someone in Auckland, my god! So that’s how you project yourself, narratively, into another time. You work out what people will be taking for granted, and what not.

Having a spectrum of worlds where different things are being taken for granted, because they are in different times or different cultures, allows me to examine similarity and difference. It allows me to examine change. And isn’t change interesting? What is it, after all? It’s invisible, like the wind, but you can see its effects when a tornado blows through. The way my books are–spectra across time, across cultures– perhaps allows me to render visible things that are normally invisible, or non-tangible. And focus on things that defy focus, perhaps.

David Mitchell, in The Atlantic


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