A car commercial currently airing on TV features the voice of inventor Arthur Clarke from a 1964 recording. Accompanied by soothing music and fast-moving digital images, Clarke expresses unbounded optimism about the future. Acknowledging that it is beyond our current ability to understand, he offers this rosy assessment: “The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic.”
Of course, the purpose of the commercial is to sell a car by suggesting that Clarke’s “fantastic” future has come to pass in the production of a particularly attractive model. But that point is always lost on me. What strikes me every time I see the ad is that nobody talks about the future that way anymore. I haven’t done any scientific polling, but I’m pretty sure people today are more likely to fear the future than look forward to it.
The spirit of invention that spurred so much optimism in mid-century has produced decidedly mixed results. Recent history has supplied abundant evidence that the best human technology in the wrong hands leads to diabolical outcomes. For instance, the Wright brothers were appalled when their invention of the airplane was used in wartime to drop bombs and destroy cities. The television didn’t just bring moving pictures into living rooms; it emptied front porches on summer evenings and replaced human interaction with inane, solitary entertainment. Digital technology has put the world at our fingertips, but it has also supplied ISIS with a powerful recruiting tool and made everybody more vulnerable.
As people of faith, how should we approach the future?