Some writers we know write about the future: William Gibson, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin. We expect them to find insights about how humans might live. But what about someone like Marguerite Duras, an influential post-war French novelist and filmmaker? She had important things to say about the 20th century. What might she say about the future?
Photonics researcher Antoine Wojdyla stumbled across an interview with Duras from September 1985 in the French magazine Les Inrocks. Struck by Duras' perspective on technology and deception, he translated the article out of the goodness of his heart and sent it to me. It's strange and remarkable, an uncanny interpretation of our present.
I read her statement as a kind of pre-answer to Google and wearables and the quantified self. When former Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal in 2010, "I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next." That's what Duras means when she says, "In the 2000s, there will only be answers."
In any case, here's Duras as translated by Wojdyla:
In the 2000s, there will be only answers. The demand will be such that there will only be answers. All texts will be answers, in fact. I believe that man will be literally drowned in information, in constant information. About his body, his corporeal future, his health, his family life, his salary, his leisure.
It's not far from a nightmare. There will be nobody reading anymore.
They will see television. We will have screens everywhere, in the kitchen, in the restrooms, in the office, in the streets.
Where will we be? When we watch television, where are we? We're not alone.
We will no longer travel, it will no longer be necessary to travel. When you can travel around the world in eight days or a fortnight, why would you?
In traveling, there is the time of the travel. Traveling is not seeing things in a rapid succession, it's seeing and living in the same instant. Living from the travel, that will no longer be possible.
Everything will be clogged, everything will have been already invested.
The seas will remain, nevertheless, and the oceans.
And reading. People will rediscover that. A man, one day, will read. And everything will start again. We'll encounter a time where everything will be free. Meaning that answers, at that time, will be granted less consideration. It will start like this, with indiscipline, a risk taken by a human against himself. The day where he will be left alone again with his misfortunes, and his happiness, only that those will depend on himself.
Maybe those who will get over this misstep will be the heroes of the future.
It's very likely, let's hope there will be some left…