To mark the beginning of a conference that exhorts us to cast ourselves further into the future and think about change, I want to explore the possibility of dwelling on the present for a moment. Thinking about the future and Society 4.0 demands that we not just “think” about the future, but think about what we feel right now in the present about the future. So my first encouragement is for us to hold in our minds the role of emotions in the way we project ourselves and our communities forward—including our planetary community. The second plea is that we examine what will not change—what will remain the same. What kind of triumphs and failures do these things represent? And how do we celebrate or regret them? What rituals are we currently putting in place that will structure society 4.0 and what do they say about what we value? Finally, what is the role of policy and policymaking in this forward-planning and also in this ritualisation?
In a programme heavy on tech and its consequences, let’s explore the frameworks for interaction we are putting in place to safeguard and enhance our common humanity.
Humans are a storytelling species, and from ancient epics to family lore, from the Aeneid to the identity of Satashi Nakamoto, we have always defined and passed on our values in the form of stories. Every nation, tribe, city, profession, family and group has its own foundational narratives and storytelling conventions, which they use to define who they are and who they want to be, the boundaries of who belong and who do not, and what practices and beliefs are valued and which are anathema.
Notably, storytelling itself is a technological practice. When the technologies for storytelling change, the kind of stories that can be told also change. Writing, film, copyright, interactive gaming, AI-assisted creation, mass participatory storytelling, VR ... All these technologies alter the ecology of stories that can be told, the species of stories that are valued, and ultimately the overarching narratives that become disruptive or dominant. How will the emerging narrative technologies of virtual reality, hypersocial media and, machine-assisted originality that collectively seek to make fiction indistinguishable from reality change the
values that we hold dear?