Blitz Magazine Interview, May 1991
JG Ballard, visionary science-fiction novelist and short story writer, has always lived in the future. Recently he has completed the sequel to his fictionalized autobiography, “Empire of the Sun”, to be published in the autumn.
“The future will be a very volatile and dangerous place. My feeling is that we are entering into a period of colossal uncertainty on every conceivable level - political, social, psychological. Marshall McLuhan was right to talk about the global village, thanks to the communication networks that wrap themselves around the planet. He didn't anticipate, however, the enormous volatility of everything, the way in which financial, political, social typhoons can sweep across the world as they did in, say, October 1987, with the financial crash. Huge cash balances can move from one side of the planet to another with the press of a computer key, destabilizing entire economies. The Gulf War is an example of a gigantic conflict in terms of the military forces engaged, which began and was over almost before one noticed it. There is a possibility that an all-out nuclear confrontation in World War III could last about seven minutes, and we might not even notice it.
“Bourgeois life - in the sense of suburban norms - will be completely maintained. Yet, at the same time, there will be huge dislocations that will come from any quarter. They might be terrorist outrages that paralyse the motorway network of the whole of western Europe. They might be social in the sense that some fanatical pressure group will man the barricades and disrupt ordinary life; or aesthetic, a decision to embrace a new kind of fashion. A preference for the colour blue rather than the colour red may have huge planetary consequences we can't conceive of at the moment.
“Generally, I think there will be a retreat by people from the external world, which will be very hazardous for all sorts of reasons, to the interior world of their own homes. The ordinary domestic home of the future will be transformed into something like a television studio. Everybody will have the most advanced video equipment.
“People will also retreat into their own imaginations which at last they will have the means to explore. If virtual reality systems actually come on-stream and begin to be installed in people's homes and are effective in their illusion of reality, this will represent the greatest event in human evolution. For the first time, mankind will be able to deny reality and substitute its own preferred version.
“By the year 2000, the future may not exist as a concept, just as the past virtually doesn't exist anymore. The past is just a kind of anthology of design statements that one dips into as the mood takes you. It doesn't have any real validity, you don't have the sense of a road stretching behind us in the rearview mirror of life.
“I've also got a feeling that population growth is going to start levelling off, and world populations will begin to decline. When people have complete mastery of their own biologies, genetic selection will allow parents to choose all the mental and physical qualities of their offspring. Maybe you can only do this once very, very rarely, and parents will reject most of the children they conceive because the children will not match the ideals of their child profile. So people may go through their whole lifetime wanting but not having a child.
“In the far future, I take it for granted that death will be defeated, but reading the far future is a very difficult thing to do. Our greatest evolution may occur when we have long since discarded our biological identity and become computers, which are much more enduring and capable of being endlessly duplicated if anything goes wrong.
“People ought to make something out of this that we can't anticipate. Who can say? I think the biggest thing is that human beings will have, for the first time, the moral right to treat their own psychopathologies as a game because there will be no danger of hurting anybody else. Now, that could be an important breakthrough.”