Works of science fiction, particularly good ones, are almost always dystopian. It’s easy to understand why: There’s a lot of drama in Hell, but Heaven is, by definition, conflict-free. Happiness is nice to experience, but seen from the outside it’s pretty dull.
But there’s another reason why portrayals of utopia don’t work. We’ve all experienced the “uncanny valley” that makes it difficult to watch robotic or avatarial replicas of human beings without feeling creeped out. The uncanny valley also exists, I think, when it comes to viewing artistic renderings of a future paradise. Utopia is creepy – or at least it looks creepy. That’s probably because utopia requires its residents to behave like robots, never displaying or even feeling fear or anger or jealousy or bitterness or any of those other messy emotions that plague our fallen world.
I’ve noticed the arrival recently of a new genre of futuristic YouTube videos. They’re created by tech companies for marketing or brand-burnishing purposes. With the flawless production values that only a cash-engorged balance sheet can buy you, they portray a not-too-distant future populated by exceedingly well-groomed people who spend their hyperproductive days going from one screen to the next. (As seems always to be the case with utopias, the atmosphere is very post-sexual.) The productions are intended to present us with visions of technological Edens, but they end up doing the exact opposite: portraying a future world that feels cold, mechanical, and repellent. And the creepiness is only intensified by the similarities between the future they conjure up and the present that we live in.
The latest in this genre comes from Microsoft, and like its predecessors it seems to be the product of a collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. Make sure you watch it with the sound on, because the music in these videos is always richly creepy in itself:
I love the title of this video: Productivity Future Vision (2011). It’s so evocative.