How do we imagine our species' future? Where do we think we will be in one hundred, two hundred years times or even longer?
We have been marking the centenary of the start of the First World War this year and the last soldiers from that have only just died. Next year sees the two hundred year anniversary of Waterloo and the defeat of Napoleon. I am sure that the participants in Waterloo never envisaged the carnage of the First World War but then, at the end of the First World War it was said to be the war to end all wars and look what happened....
I am going to see the new Hunger Games film this week. My son and his friends are very keen on this whole genre of writing. Survival, apocalyptic future etc. When I was their age, I remember starting to read George Orwell and thinking, well he was wrong about Big Brother and all that.
Yet this week the media are raging about digital privacy versus the need to keep tabs on what terrorists and others are up to online. Big Brother really does exist. We all know it but choose to go along with it, driven by the belief that the spooks are not looking for "people like us" and of course they have not got time to check our online trails of films, emails, shopping, chatting. Yet we expect someone, somewhere to keep tabs on our neighbours' secrets. Their illegal porn habits, their illegal film downloading, whatever. We want someone to police all that.
The thing is, what if a "nasty party" gets in to power and the legislation that they need is already in place? The ability to watch everyone, to detain without the courts, to take passports, etc - all the things that we are told now are needed to deal with the very few. Could they be turned on the majority? Or at least, turned on a scapegoat minority like the Nazis did? In the future, will a party like UKIP (or far worse) be able to convince us that immigrants should be turned away and ethnic communities deported?
In terms of a family history link to this, I guess as ever I find myself fascinated with what my ancestors would make of the world in which we live now. I have vivid memories of watching Tomorrow's World as a child and seeing items about innovations like bar-coding, shopping from home and pocket computers. And it all seemed quite unbelievable and very unlikely!
My ancestors who travelled to India must have found themselves hit like an (as yet mostly uninvented!) train with the difference in culture and could never have envisaged a time when you could fly to India in a few hours; a time when India is as powerful as it is now. They could not even perceive of India as an independent entity. Imagining a future like the Hunger Games or 1984 would have been impossible.
Wouldn't it be amazing to go back in time and be able to give your ancestor an ipad or something and get them to record their lives in real blinding colour? How did it feel to be there? If nothing else, the current obsession with social media does mean that our descendants will not be short of such material, provided it survives. And survival is the key, as the participants in the Hunger Games know only too well. Let us hope that it is not too worrying that we can start to imagine a future like that.