Hans Rosling has died

Sad to hear today that the great Hans Rosling has died of cancer. In his passing we’ve lost a great public champion of rational thought about the future. I’d like to think that, in his last days, he took heart from thinking that the publicity around his death would bring his insights to a much wider public — and at precisely the moment in history where they might do the most good.


Why dystopia?

Excellent spoiler-free discussion of the overwhelming trend to popular culture dystopia that is one of the themes of the new movie Tomorrowland, over at the Blue Collar, Black Tie blog…

“Can you name a single movie made in the last 40 years that depicts a future that’s better than the present? I can get as far as one of the possible futures in Back to the Future II, and then I come up empty. … Somewhere between the assassination of John F. Kennedy [1963] and the fall of the Berlin Wall [1989], the future [anticipated by our fictions] turned ugly. It stayed ugly for decades.”

Possibly it has something to do with the eliding of ‘the teenager’ into political rebellion in the 60s and 70s, with dystopia offering a much freer rein to imagine one roaming free of one’s parents strictures and their ‘crumbly old’ society. Plus, the threat of nuclear war offered a real and ever-present chance of civilisation’s collapse.

Big news is bad news

“Breaking news: It’s the best of times” points to the amplification effect that modern news gathering has on the level of bad news we read. With a whole world of news to choose from, editor preference will naturally gravitate out to the extreme margins of the vastly widened news spectrum.

“the international news is usually worse than national news, which is worse than regional news, which is worse than local news. In other words, international news is depressing for statistical reasons. The extremity of atrocities and tragedy is not a representative reflection of the state of the world.”

This operates at both ends of the spectrum, from fluff to atrocity. Thus the Daily Telegraph‘s Wildlife RSS feed devolves into a wasteland of ‘whacky funny animal videos’, while the Guardian‘s environment pages exist in a permanent state of ‘Apocalypse, Now!’.