Back in my youth, I read a lot of cyberpunk. Arguably too much, but I was at an impressionable age and got taken in by all the glitz and edginess. Technology had never been so sexy: urban decay had never been so fascinating.
A lot of that future has come true. Cyberspace is ubiquitous, even if it didn’t come out quite the way Gibson visualised it. Some corporations wield more power than small countries. God is dead, unless he manages to get himself a slot on the X-Factor.
And now, riots in the streets. As a middle-aged, financially secure white person who lives in the country, I’m hardly qualified to comment on the recent urban violence in England – and it is just England, not the rest of the UK. (If you want to hear from someone more qualified to speak on the matter, check this out.) However, as someone who always looks for the real story, I will say this: what is going on here is far more complex than the ‘pure criminality’ the Tories are so found of banging on about. Yes, I’m sure there are criminal gangs involved. I imagine there’s also a degree of ‘aspirational looting’ (‘The window’s already broken, and I could never afford that phone/laptop/pair of trainers, so why don’t I just help myself?’). No doubt there are plenty of young people out there with no hope and no thought of the future who see rampaging through the streets as a way of venting their unfocused anger, a means of briefly getting power and respect (or at least fear). And some silly bastards end up running with the rioters because that’s what everyone else is doing, and it’s better to be predator than prey, innit?
But I find myself looking to the future – after all, that’s my job – and I don’t like what I see. These events will set us back badly. You can already see it in the implicit racism in a lot of the media coverage. And the riots can be used to justify increasingly violent tactics by the police (even after quiet has fallen); and increased suspicion of young people, especially young black people (thus alienating them even more); and more drastic responses to threats to property (which we’ll come to accept as normal).
The perceived threat of ‘Islamic Extremism’ led to (most of) us accepting an erosion of our civil liberties as the price we paid for ‘protection’ by the state. I’m sure the responses to these riots will take that insidious process further. And, as a nation, we’ll probably sit by and let it happen.
Much as I enjoy writing about the future, I doubt I’ll enjoy living in it.