It’s the image of the future my childhood built for me. Warring syndicates or megacorps, with shining towers gleaming over thick, pervasive, choking clouds. A brand name glittering at the top of an oddly shaped tower, the only thing rising up from a polluted underbelly in which the unfortunate populace largely thrive.
Metaphorically speaking, there’s truth in that cyberpunk vision of the future, its not far off the now. The notional one percent, the gleaming brand names, that’s already here, but the details are off. They all rely on the world being small. SciFi has an ability to make a single city sprawl its whole world, and you don’t notice because you’ve got so much to learn. In fact, the smoke isn’t solid and dense enough, its invisible. The gaps are spread further geographically as well. The haves and have nots aren’t separated into under and over city, but by oceans and national boundaries. I don’t think we recognised exactly what kind of monster a multinational was. The way it can redistribute wealth upwards, buying enough power and offering enough bread and circus to keep the right side of the line in relative stupor.
That’s a little bleak, I’m going to get in trouble for overegging, but I might be right.
Funnily enough I was looking at this yesterday. It’s an Americo-centric list, so you may not recognise all the brand names, but the basic point is clear. Most of the brand identities you know, are owned by the same few companies. Ironies of particular note are things like the Body Shop being owned by Nestle. Lynx (known for terrible representation of women) and Dove (known for feminist-lite campaigns aiming to improve the representation of women) are both part of the same church.
The basic message is, if you keep your brand names separate, you don’t have to worry about the ethics of your customers, because you probably own the ‘ethical’ alternative.
If we did become the slaves of two giant megacorps, I don’t know if we’d notice. The branding wouldn’t be as honest as we see in the cyberpunk worlds. And that sort of direct competition isn’t good for business. Better to offer a plethora of choice, even if its a false choice.
I think there’s a problem in futurology though, particularly the futurology of Science Fiction. SF is quite often there to offer commentary on the current world. Its forward extrapolations are based mostly on the need to say something about now, be that an ideal or a worry. It makes for fascinating and resonant stories, you should try it.
But you can’t base the future on the now, because the world is too complicated, and the unexpected is too close. We can’t imagine how our values will change as the world does, because they are so engrained and we are so embedded in our moment.
The future isn’t going to be now but bigger, worse, better or brighter, it’s going to be something wholly its own.
Illustration by Jaime