Why is the future always as miserable as Apple's 1984?

Technically Incorrect: A British paint manufacturer is the latest to (brilliantly) show a future that's quite painful and awful. Yet here we are loving the fancy gadgets that will take us there. Is there a disconnect?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

The more we change the world, the more miserable we get. Dulux/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I worry about us all, so that you don't have to.

Today's concern is stimulated by what struck me initially as a very fine ad. It's made by the British paint manufacturer Dulux.

It posits a Futureworld where everything is sanitized, white. It's a world where any sort of color is deemed less magical and revolutionary and more merely revolutionary.

It's a world where if you stand out, you risk being squeezed back into the white toothpaste tube until you choke.

Somehow, this reflects Apple's miserable view of 1984. Everyone is in uniform uniform. Repressive forces keep people down, keep them identical in their misery.

It seems that almost every ad and Hollywood movie created about the future shows a world that is cold, heartless, menacing and thoroughly soulless.

Yes, we'll have all sorts of strange gizmos, flying machines and lasers that will paralyze all living beings from galaxies away. But at heart our lives will be chillingly dark, the only color being provided by little green people who zoom in for a pot of tea, a cookie and a skirmish or two.

Simultaneously, in these pages we're celebrating new devices, robots, flying cars, um, watches and other exciting creations that will take us into a more intelligent and allegedly advanced world.

While Google's Ray Kurzweil cannot wait until the robots come and he can become one of them, many of us more earthly beings -- Stephen Hawking, for example -- worry that the robots will take one look at us, use us for a little while and stomp us against the cutting room floor.

Perhaps one reason why ads and movies like to portray the future as a miserable and dangerous place is that humans, in all our bloated magisterial weakness, have an innate fear of the unknown, of the things that can't ultimately be predicted and controlled.

Yet here we are actively creating that very future. Here we are constructing the very digital, electronic elements that end up frightening Tom Cruise, Will Smith and even non Thetan-believers like Denzel Washington.

Is it really that we're just playing a little game with ourselves in these ads and movies? Is it that filmmakers have to portray the future as menacing and dangerous so that they can ultimately create a happy ending (even if the world's been largely destroyed in the process?)

Could it be, though, that there's some element of self-distrust and even self-loathing in our dedication to automation and digital nirvana, while at the same time using ads and movies to warn of the insane nincompoopery of our thought processes?

Because you're wiser than me, you'll remind me of some tear-jerking rom-com featuring Jude Law and Cameron Diaz, set in 2037. I just can't think of one.

I can't think of any filmic exposition of the future that isn't, to some degree, an unveiled warning of the heinous hell we're creating.

Hey, I hear a new "Hunger Games" movie might be out soon.