On Acedia, and my new book A New History of the Future in 100 Objects

My new book, A New History of the Future in 100 Objects, is out today, and you can find it at your favourite local bookstore (via Bookshop.org) or Amazon US and Amazon UK.

If you’re thinking, “haven’t I read heard of this already?” it’s because this is a new edition of A History of the Future in 100 Objects, published by MIT Press. There are twenty brand new or completely rewritten objects on everything from basic maximum income and a fleet of geo-engineering to funerary monuments for billionaires. I also used the opportunity to weave more intricate links between the objects, while bringing them bang up to date for 2020. 

Here are reviews from the first edition of the book:

…Adrian Hon conjures a detailed and arresting vision of a late 21st century world where technology has helped us advance so far it’s hard to say what it means any more to be human.

Start the Week, BBC Radio 4

Although he exhibits plenty of skepticism, Hon is optimistic at heart. His imagined future is one of technological innovation and social betterment. With so much speculative fiction predicting doom and gloom over the next century, it’s refreshing to see such hopefulness. This is the Jetsons’ future, one that’s bright and beautiful and very, very shiny.

Grantland

And you can read the first six chapters of the original edition online!


It’s a weird time to be launching any book, let alone one about the future. It was hard enough to remain hopeful and write an optimistic vision of the next sixty years, and it’s still harder to justify sharing that vision when a pandemic rages across the planet and people who I know and love have lived with literal flames on the horizon.

And then I learned a word that spoke to this sense of paralysis, but also a way beyond it: acedia. It’s so apt I’m going to break the rules of book promotion and share part of Bruce Schneier’s post

Acedia was a malady that apparently plagued many medieval monks. It’s a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up.

…Moving around is what we do as creatures, and for that we need horizons. COVID-19 has erased many of the spatial and temporal horizons we rely on, even if we don’t notice them very often. We don’t know how the economy will look, how social life will go on, how our home routines will be changed, how work will be organized, how universities or the arts or local commerce will survive.

What unsettles us is not only fear of change. It’s that, if we can no longer trust in the future, many things become irrelevant, retrospectively pointless. And by that we mean from the perspective of a future whose basic shape we can no longer take for granted. This fundamentally disrupts how we weigh the value of what we are doing right now. It becomes especially hard under these conditions to hold on to the value in activities that, by their very nature, are future-directed, such as education or institution-building.

That’s what many of us are feeling. That’s today’s acedia.

Our horizons have been obscured by the smoke of so many fires that it feels impossible to plan for the future. Worse than impossible: pointless. 

But those horizons remain, and we can see them again by working together and caring for each other, using new tools and building new communities of care. And though my book imagines a hopeful future, this new edition is about hope in the face of desperate challenge. 

It’s about a country that remembers what democracy means, even as they’re governed by all-knowing, AI-enhanced ‘epistocrats’. 

It’s about people who choose to give up what they have to empty out half the world, so humanity has that much better chance of thriving. 

It’s about women poking fun and fighting back at politicians who try to control what they eat.

And it’s about the hundred exciting, scary, funny, tragic things that we will get to see.

Acedia, a lack of care that’s manifest in the world all around us, is something we can get through by caring for each other – and by imagining the future we can earn through that care. I hope my book can help you imagine that future.

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