An imagining of the future by JG Ballard, the British essayist and sci-fi author, in a 1977 essay gives a pretty impressive account of the pervasiveness of social media – and reality television – 36 years later.
It’s from Vogue, and titled “The future of the future”:
Far more sophisticated devices have begun to appear on the scene, above all, video systems and micro-computers adapted for domestic use. Together these will achieve what I take to be the apotheosis of all the fantasies of late twentieth-century man — the transformation of reality into a TV studio, in which we can simultaneously play out the roles of audience, producer and star …
All this, of course, will be mere electronic wallpaper, the background to the main programme in which each of us will be both star and supporting player. Every one of our actions during the day, across the entire spectrum of domestic life, will be instantly recorded on video-tape. In the evening we will sit back to scan the rushes, selected by a computer trained to pick out only our best profiles, our wittiest dialogue, our most affecting expressions filmed through the kindest filters, and then stitch these together into a heightened re-enactment of the day. Regardless of our place in the family pecking order, each of us within the privacy of our own rooms will be the star in a continually unfolding domestic saga, with parents, husbands, wives and children demoted to an appropriate starring role.
The Ballardrian blog summarised the essay this way in 2007:
Each one of us lives in a room full of TV screens that report on our daily life and bodily functions. People spend their evenings editing the material recorded by cameras – their own talks and interactions with the family and friends. They live keeping in mind the film we continuously are making. Gradually they step back into our rooms and perform our work and family life via the TV screen, unable to cope with un-mediated reality.
Twitter user Gideon Defoe posted the excerpt a few days ago, remarking “apart from the video tape bit, JG Ballard pretty much nails social media”.
But give it time.
As Ballard – who has also been credited with predicting YouTube and the internet itself – said somewhere else, “sooner or later everything turns into television”.
See also: When Abraham Lincoln invented Facebook.