Deciding what’s meaningful

When Alexis Madrigal started working at Fusion, he shared his perspective on the future:

My animating belief is that politicians and bullshitters and ideologues have taken the idea of societal change and replaced it with a particular notion of technology as the only or main causal mechanism in history. Somehow, we’ve been convinced that only machines and corporations make the future, not people and ideas. And that’s not true. …

This is not to denigrate the importance of technology out there in the world or call for a return to pre-industrial or pre-Internet society. Because all the other types of change are being mediated by our phones and networks, artificial intelligences and robots. And those dynamics are really important.

But if you really want to know what the future is going to be like, you can’t just talk about the billions of phones in China or paste some logarithmic growth charts into your Powerpoint. You have to go to the places where people are experiencing bits of the future—living the changes—and use that reporting to weave together a multivalent portrait of our possible futures. You have to get the many ways of thinking about the future into the same space, so you can see how they fit together.

What machines can surface is mostly raw information. It’s a raw intelligence, and so thoughtfulness, insight, history, and context are still vital to understanding whether there’s anything meaningful in the pile of data that’s generated for you to look at.

What are we doing with our lives? If we think information technology or the machines that power it often provide meaningful answers to those things, I think we’re forgetting that meaning comes from within. What are you going to do with your future?