One can imagine a variety of reasons for why “The Future” (as imagined in our collective consciousness) is blue and black, many of which are mundane and fairly obvious.

The screens on our phones, laptops, and TVs are black (the inspiration behind the name of the science fiction series Black Mirror) and it’s probably a good bet that the future will have even more screens (one day we will decide to replace the whole sky with a screen so that it’s never cloudy and every sunset is picturesque). In general, technology calls to mind darker and more metallic colors (silver and grey also seem abundant in our imagined future). The future also calls to mind space exploration which is a very black and blue type of affair - from our grey metallic spaceships we will all look back at our home planet, a pale blue dot hanging in the void.

There may be a less obvious and more interesting reason why we tend to envision the future with a certain aesthetic (darker color palette, sleek, smooth, shiny, etc.).1 Construal-level theory describes how distance of all kinds (temporally, spatially, socially, emotionally, conceptually, etc.) form one general cognitive dimension and how this dimension (near vs. far) affects the abstraction of our thinking. To get a better sense of the theory, I’ll share an abstract from a review paper (slightly more technical) and a few sections from the wikipedia page (slightly less technical).

From Trope and Liberman (2010), “Construal-Level Theory of Psychological Distance

People are capable of thinking about the future, the past, remote locations, another person's perspective, and counterfactual alternatives. Without denying the uniqueness of each process, it is proposed that they constitute different forms of traversing psychological distance. Psychological distance is egocentric: Its reference point is the self in the here and now, and the different ways in which an object might be removed from that point-in time, in space, in social distance, and in hypotheticality-constitute different distance dimensions. Transcending the self in the here and now entails mental construal, and the farther removed an object is from direct experience, the higher (more abstract) the level of construal of that object. Supporting this analysis, research shows (a) that the various distances are cognitively related to each other, (b) that they similarly influence and are influenced by level of mental construal, and (c) that they similarly affect prediction, preference, and action.

From Wikipedia:

The general idea is that the more distant an object is from the individual, the more abstract it will be thought of, while the closer the object is, the more concretely it will be thought of. In CLT, psychological distance is defined on several dimensions—temporal, spatial, social and hypothetical distance (how likely something is to occur) being considered most important.

An example of construal level effects would be that although planning one's next summer vacation one year in advance (in the distant future) will cause one to focus on broad, decontextualized features of the situation (e.g., anticipating fun and relaxation), the very same vacation planned to occur very soon will cause one to focus on specific features of the present situation (e.g. what restaurants to make reservations for, going for a trip in an off-road vehicle).

Robin Hanson discusses how much of what we imagine about the future is based in the more abstract “far” mode of thinking.

Since the future is far in time, thinking about it tends to invoke a far mode of thought, which introduces other far mode defaults into our image of the future. And thinking about the far future makes us think especially far. Of course many other considerations influence any particular imagined future, but it can help to understand the assumptions your mind is primed to make about the far future, regardless of whether those assumptions are true.

Since blue light scatters more easily than red, far away things in our field of view tend to look more blue. So we expect future stuff to look blue. And since blue stuff looks cold, we expect future stuff to look cold. Finally, since we expect far away things to have less detail, we tend to imagine them with fewer parts and flourishes, and less detailed textures and patterns. The future is not paisley.

We also tend to assume there are fewer relevant categories of far things. So we’ll tend to assume future folk have fewer kinds of food, furniture, cars, houses, roads, buildings, and land uses, whose styles of use vary less from place to place. Instead of seeing a million variations bleeding into each other in dizzying complexity, we tend to assume there are fewer more discrete types, with less variation within each type and larger differences between types. For example, futuristic movies often have everyone wearing very similar clothes.

So the conclusion is that in the future, everyone will look brazilian, there will only be two foods - chocolate nutrient paste or vanilla nutrient paste (both made from Soylent Green), and everyone will wear skin-tight silver jumpsuits.


I’m not the first to make this remark, but imagined futures often seem incredibly boring. Fun doesn’t seem to be a high priority and everything is so serious - it’s all AI apocalypses, intergalactic warfare, and the like. Future people are all scientific geniuses and moral heroes that spend their time traveling the galaxy, pondering the mysteries of the cosmos, and fighting for noble causes. Where is the sex?!?! The drugs?!?!? The music?!?!?! You know, THE FUN!?!?!? (sorry, I got a little excited there…)

Hanson attributes the seriousness and lack of fun in the future to far mode thinking in the the moral, social, and emotional domains.

Sex, money, and temptation tend to be near, while love, satisfaction, trust, and self-control are far. So we often assume future folks have forgotten how to have sex, as in Sleeper or Barbarella, or that money motives are less common, as in Star Trek.

In far mode we tend to focus more on our simple abstract ideals and values, relative to messy desires and practical constraints. We also tend to neglect our messy internal contradictions and conflicts, and therefore assume our values and actions are coherent and consistent. So in far mode we tend more to explain good acts as virtue, and bad acts as vice or evil.  We assume future folk are less driven by base desires, more strongly committed to their ideals, less tolerant of domination, more morally enlightened, and more morally judgmental about others’ failings.

Since important things seem nearer to us, stronger emotions feel nearer, and so we have weaker motives and emotions regarding far things. Instead of being filled with elation or terror regarding good or bad things that might happen in the far future, we tend to treat such events more philosophically, and to assume future folk will do so as well.

Tasting and touching tend to feel near, while seeing and hearing tend to feel far. So we mainly imagine what the future looks and sounds like, relative to its taste or touch.

None of this is to say that the future won’t be blue and black, smooth and shiny, boring and serious, or high-minded and philosophical - expectations have a way of becoming self-fulling prophecies. Construal-level theory should give us pause however; perhaps the only thing we see when we look into the future is our own flawed minds.


There is another reason why the future might be nothing like what we imagine - who exactly is the “we” that is doing the imagining? Nerds. Not everyone contributes equally to our collective consciousness, so-called futurists and science-fiction writers - more broadly, nerds - have an outsized role in determining our view of the future. Futurists/science fiction writers/nerds are not a representative sample of the human population by any stretch of the imagination. If the stereotype is true (and we have no reason to believe it’s not), then the people who are most responsible for shaping our view of the future are largely white (at least in the US), male, and are strongly interested in STEM disciplines, particularly computer science and AI. Most of the great science-fiction writers are white males with backgrounds in STEM. The only demographic information I can find on futurists shows strong male bias - the World Future Society and the Association of Professional Futurists are roughly 70% male (Why Aren't There More Women Futurists?).

I’m painting with a very broad brush here, but I think it’s reasonable to say there is a certain personality type that tends to be a futurist/nerd and that this stereotype fits with many of the “stereotypes” about the future. The darker and more masculine color palette and general aesthetic of future seem like something that would be chosen by a group of men without much interest in the art and design. These are also the type of people who we might expect to care the least about fashion (I know I don’t…). This may be more of a stretch, but I would also say that many of the moral and social/emotional aspects of the future (a focus on abstract ideals and virtues, a less emotional and more philosophical outlook, etc.) are also what you would expect from a group of people that tend to excel at science, math, and engineering.

It’s hard to say how much biased representation influences our collective view of the future; maybe most of its features are better explained by construal-level theory or simply the accidents of culture and history. Regardless of how important it is, I think we can use this as a kind of heuristic for thinking about what is missing from our popular conception of the future. What kinds of things does the typical futurist (again, we are stereotyping - white, male, interested in STEM) not appreciate or care about? These are the things that might be more important and more common in the future than we generally anticipate.

I’ll limit myself to one answer, one that I saw in a series of tweets from Helen Toner. Going along with the general lack of fun, you don’t really hear a lot about sports in the future. Everyone is too busy exploring space and fighting robots or aliens, basketball is such a childish waste of time in comparison.

Generally speaking, people who love computer science/AI/STEM tend not to be the most athletic bunch; they also tend not to be diehard sports fans. We can understand why these people might not place a huge emphasis on sports when they think about the future - the fact is that intellectual culture (Serious Intellectuals in Helen’s parlance) generally looks down its nose at sports. However, given the popularity of sports in today’s world, it is a good bet that sports will continue to be important in the near and far future. In fact, I think we might come to develop a whole new perspective on the nature of sport and its role in our existence.


Deaths from despair (suicide, drug overdose, addiction) have become so prevalent as to cause an unprecedented decline in life expectancy in the UK and the US, something not seen since 1918. Mental and physical health (obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.) are faltering. Work is more isolating and less satisfying than it has ever been. To put it bluntly, we are lonelier, more depressed, and fatter2 than ever before (and of course COVID-19 has only exacerbated these problems). If only there was an activity that could bring people together, give a sense of achievement and satisfaction, and improve physical and mental health…

It’s remarkable how well athletics, particularly team sports (basketball, soccer, football, etc.), fit as a remedy for many of the social ills of the modern world. I’ll make what I hope to be an uncontroversial statement: sports are massive force for good in society. This is not to say that sports can’t have negative effects; certainly there are people for whom participation in sports, either as an athlete or a fan, is not a net positive in their lives. This is also not to say that sports are a panacea for these death of despair issues; many of them have deep roots in economic and technological trends and any real long-term solution needs to work at these levels. That being said, I think athletics do achieve something more than a superficial treatment of symptoms.

I’ll make another statement which I believe is much more controversial: sports can be a source of ultimate meaning and satisfaction in life. The opposing view - sports (and games of all kinds more generally) are simply meaningless diversions which do not, and cannot, provide absolute value or meaning - is so pervasive that it is rarely discussed explicitly; no one feels the need to argue that sports are not that important in the grand scheme of human civilization. The reasons why this position is so unquestioned are largely the same reasons mentioned above why we think that the future is blue and black and smooth and shiny. On one level, the people who think the and write the most about grand meaning of life questions are typically not people who also have a great interest in athletics (of course there are many exceptions, but that doesn’t change the general picture). However, we shouldn’t discount the role of construal-level theory either - consideration of ultimate philosophical questions lends itself to the far modes of thinking which biases towards more abstract and high-minded ideas and values. The reason we don’t think of athletics as providing ultimate meaning might just represent a cognitive blind spot and nothing more.

(Originally posted at Secretum Secretorum)   

82

37 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:59 PM
New Comment

I'd like to note that queries like "history" and "ancient" result in images with much more yellow and orange in them (pyramids, pottery, old paper, etc.). I checked by blurring screenshots a lot in an image editor, and the average color for "history" seems to be a shade of orange, while that of "futuristic" is a shade of blue. Blue and yellow/orange are complementary color combinations, so I wonder if that plays any role in reinforcing the blue-future and yellow-past associations.

Maybe one angle is clean vs. dirty? Ancient imagery brings to mind dust, rust, yellowing of paper and bleaching by the sun. If one looks at the future as the opposite of the past, we'd imagine it clean and bright.

Other future-as-inversion-of-past ideas:

  • The past was brutal and violent; the future is peaceful and harmonized (well, ignoring extraterrestrial space war)
  • The past was concerned with frivolity, the future is concerned with important things like science, technology, fairness, etc.
  • This is a bit of a stretch, but maybe the past was information-poor: lossy, poorly preserved, easily lost documents in ambiguous old language vs. modern, lossless, high-fidelity recordings of knowledge en masse

Old photographs yellow.

I think part of the difficulty of imagining sports as a defining feature of peoples' lives is the profound inequality in the sports world. The number of professional sports players is extremely low and will decrease relative to the athlete population over time. Imagine the inscription then, on the tombstone of one of these athletes. Not "He strove for greatness". Not "SOCHI 2014 BRONZE" or anything of that sort. How pathetic would it be for your highest achievement in life being that you kicked a ball around adequately? Who here can honestly imagine themselves satisfied with such an empty existence? And if you can't, then in my opinion the idea of sports as a solution to the deaths of despair problem is at best seriously flawed.

How pathetic would it be for your highest achievement in life being that you kicked a ball around adequately? Who here can honestly imagine themselves satisfied with such an empty existence?

Is it less pathetic to be an average software developer? Because if tomorrow a car hit me, they might put this on my tombstone, and I would have no right to object.

"Had a lot of fun; didn't visibly contribute to the larger picture" -- I think that for many people this would be an improvement over what they have currently.

How pathetic would it be for your highest achievement in life being that you kicked a ball around adequately? Who here can honestly imagine themselves satisfied with such an empty existence?

Is it less pathetic to be an average software developer?

This is severely confounded by the fact thay many software developers are doing things that are actively detrimental, like working on adtech, or developing new social control features for social media, or helping totalitarian governments oppress dissidents, etc.

If you eliminate all the software developers that are working on things that are not just useless but actually bad, and take the average of those who remain, then… yeah, it is way less pathetic to be one of those “average of the non-evil” software developers than it is to be an adequate ball-kicker.

The difference is that (ideally) a software developer makes the world a better place to live in (again, ideally). So would a welder, or a doctor, or anyone else working a useful job. Secondly, I had a point about why this doesn't seem like a realistic solution to this problem: If you can't put yourself directly in the shoes of the person you're trying to help, then you may need to reexamine your solution and find out why.

I hope at least the sports fans have better things to do than define themselves in the tombstone-writing terms. Which other people will write.

Curated. Kudos to this post for causing me new thoughts on a topic I've already thought so much about. I suspect a big disjoint between people devoting themselves to ensuring the far future is good and everyone else is that the two groups have very different aesthetic expectations of the future; possibly, as this post suggests, due to thinking about it in near/far-mode. It makes me think we need many more stories like Stuart Armstrong's rich and vivid The Adventure. That, and better far future art with more color, e.g. solarpunk

Thanks! And I agree, well said. 

You should read 17776 by Jon Bois! It is arguably one of the greatest works of science fiction to come out of the last decade, and it explores precisely the ideas presented in this post. If I were to summarize it in a sentence, it is a story about how humans might find meaning and satisfaction in future utopia and an attempt to understand why humans play sports in the first place.

It's definitely something that's best experienced completely fresh so I recommend that you avoid spoilers, find some spare time, click that link, and dive in!

I had someone else recommend that too - I'll check it out! 

Also note that “futuristic,” the term searched, is different from “the future.” It’s an aesthetic, not an objective trait. There’s not going to be a clear direct opposite - “pastistic” is not a word, and words like “ancient” and “historical” aren’t antonyms. Historical futurism is probably a thing, like studying HG Wells or something.

Asking why “futuristic” is coded black and blue and silver probably does have the explanation you gave, in terms of those being the colors of common symbols of that aesthetic.

But exploring this question will probably lead to insights comparable to asking why “natural” is green.

"Retro" is a existing concept which is pretty asthetic in the opposite time direction than futuristic.

I was thinking the same thing about retro, but it seems to have connotations of recent past, i.e. living memory.  Hundreds or thousands of years ago is not "retro", IMHO.

Regarding sports - I agree that physical activity is critical to wellbeing. I agree that team sports are a good way to build community.  But the non-physical benefits of sport are the lessons in perseverance, sharing, cooperation, humility, etc.  They are not intrinsic to the sport, but I agree sport can be a good vehicle for learning them, so they can be a net good. But there are other activities that teach the same lessons, and at the end of the day you have something more than a score.  Think Eagle Scout projects, hackathons, or Habitat for Humanity house building.

On the other hand, competitive sport can create conflict.  Often the conflict is a major part of a sport culture e.g. football players who intend to injure other players, albeit within the rules.  In the long run, I think these are counterproductive activities.

I think cooperative sports, or sports without head-to-head competition, e.g. rowing time trials can be good, but much less exciting to watch.

Which brings me to spectator sports.  They have all the disadvantages of participatory competitive sports with none of the advantages.  Is it really a net good to have millions of fans bonding with fellow fans over. game...against millions of fans who want nothing but the humiliation of your team? 

Art of all kind is similar to spectator sports. But the best art teaches the invested spectator something meaningful about life.  In many ways, that is the primary purpose of the best art.  As far as spectator sports, I think the most you can say is that you admire a quality of a team, but it is not something easily internalized.  And the commercialization and competitive emphasis makes this sort of introspection much less likely.

Thanks for provoking some thought!

I have a much less interesting argument, sadly: orange and teal. These are very common colors in movie posters and in visuals generally, because they complement well. Humans look orange enough for these purposes, so there is a benefit to having blue-ish backgrounds if available.

Definitely a valid point - I think there also some simple explanations to all of this that are not nearly interesting lol

I’ll make what I hope to be an uncontroversial statement: sports are massive force for good in society.

Not uncontroversial at all, I’m afraid. I’ll contest this strongly. If it’s team sports (e.g. soccer, American football, hockey, etc.) you have in mind, then I think they are detrimental for participants (due to the quite horrifying prevalence of traumatic brain injuries), and a massive waste of resources as spectator events (think of the astronomical salaries of professional athletes in these sports; the cost of stadiums—so often subsidized by taxpayer money; etc.). (There are other downsides to team sports, but these two quite suffice to oppose them.)

Didn't mean to suggest that there were no downsides, which these definitely are. What is the counterfactual though? What are we realistically doing with all of this energy and money that has more positives and fewer negatives? 

What is the counterfactual though? What are we realistically doing with all of this energy and money that has more positives and fewer negatives?

Almost anything else.

What we are doing with the energy: hiking, weight lifting, jogging, running, swimming, paintball, parkour, you name it, really just almost anything else.

What we are doing with the money: seriously? This is an actual question? Alright: building housing, improving public transport, doing more street cleaning, lowering taxes… There are so many better things we could do if we suddenly had a big pile of money available that I feel rather strange having to type all of this out.

Sorry, my comment was too vague and led to misunderstanding. What I mean is that even if we got rid of sports we are still going to have these same impulses and preferences - humans have tribalistic tendencies and like to  cooperate on competitive physical activities (as we did when hunting/gathering for millions of years). We can quibble about what counts as a sport or athletic event  - swimming and running are individual but we still do relays and compete against each other as schools/countries, I would say paintball is a sport, parkour is a grey area maybe - but there is nothing stopping these things from being more popular than they are right now, except for the fact that lots of people really like team sports and want to spend their money/time on them. It's not like if we banned sports people would start using that money for infrastructure - aside from publicly funded stadiums, which I don't see as a massive issue in the grand scheme of things, and ignores the fact that sports/stadiums do contribute jobs/money to the economy (see the Lebron effect) - most of the money that goes to sports is private. 

Team sports are easily accessible and fun in a way that the other activities aren't. Hiking, paintball, parkour, and all the other activities you mention are great but many people across the world can't do these things because of where they live or financial reasons (why poor kids the world over play basketball/soccer and not any of the activities you mention). I think you are underestimating the amount of fun, happiness, physical/mental health that sports produce, not to mention the millions of jobs that are related to sports and the multitude of indirect positive economic/social effects. 

millions of jobs that are related to sports and the multitude of indirect positive economic/social effects

You can say that about almost anything, including activities that are clearly detrimental on the margin. The military-industrial complex also produces millions of jobs. The corrections industry (i.e., prisons) employs hundreds of thousand of people. So does the advertising industry. These are not good arguments in favor of any of these sectors.

amount of physical/mental health that sports produce

You would need to specifically argue that the positive health effects of sports outweigh the negative health effects of sports-related injuries. This is by no means obvious. TBIs are horrific, and they’re not even the only category of life-destroying injury that one can easily receive while engaging in e.g. soccer.

there is nothing stopping these things [running, paintball, parkour, etc.] from being more popular than they are right now, except for the fact that lots of people really like team sports and want to spend their money/time on them

Well, except for the fact that they don’t make very good spectator sports, and therefore it’s unprofitable to invest gigantic sums of money in marketing them to the public, as is done with the more popular team sports. That is rather a confounder, I think.

publicly funded stadiums, which I don’t see as a massive issue in the grand scheme of things, and ignores the fact that sports/stadiums do contribute jobs/money to the economy (see the Lebron effect)

Indeed? But:

While proponents may talk about a multiplier effect, several theoretical and empirical studies of local economic impact of stadiums have shown that beliefs that stadiums have an impact that matches the amount of money that residents pay are largely unfounded. The average stadium generates $145 million per year, but none of this revenue goes back into the community. As such, the prevalent idea among team owners of “socializing the costs and privatizing the profits” is harmful and unfair to people who are forced to pay for a stadium that will not help them.

Further, a study by Noll and Zimbalist on newly constructed subsidized stadiums shows that they have a very limited and possibly even negative local impact. This is because of the opportunity cost that goes into allocating a significant amount of money into a service like a stadium, rather than infrastructure or other community projects that would benefit locals. Spending $700 million in areas like education or housing could have long-term positive consequences with the potential for long-term increases in the standard of living and economic growth.

(from https://econreview.berkeley.edu/the-economics-of-sports-stadiums-does-public-financing-of-sports-stadiums-create-local-economic-growth-or-just-help-billionaires-improve-their-profit-margin/ )

(Note the suggestion that the tax money be instead used for, yes, infrastructure.)

But many economists maintain that states and cities that help pay for new stadiums and arenas rarely get their money’s worth. Teams tout new jobs created by the arenas but construction jobs are temporary, and ushers and concession workers work far less than 40 hours a week.

Furthermore, when local and state governments agree to pony up money for stadiums, taxpayers are on the hook for years — sometimes even after the team leaves town. St. Louis, for example, is still paying $6 million a year on debt from building the Edward Jones Dome, the old home of the Rams that opened in 1995, despite the team’s move to California. The debt is financed by a hotel tax and taxes on “game day” revenues like concessions and parking.

(from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/public-money-used-build-sports-stadiums )

The new report links the subsidization of new stadiums to higher poverty rates and lower median incomes in their home cities, and it found that most NFL cities fared worse by both measures after paying for a new stadium.

There is, however, a “strong consensus” among economists that publicly financed stadiums are not worth their price, and the benefits stadiums bring do not align with their costs. Baade pointed to some of his earliest research, which found that cities that pursued what he called a “sports development strategy” indeed performed worse on a host of economic measures than similarly sized cities that did not build new stadiums to keep or lure pro teams.

(from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/taxpayers-nfl-stadiums_n_55f08313e4b002d5c077b8ac )

Since 2000, 28 new major league1 stadiums have been built costing over $9 billion dollars. More than half, over $5 billion, of the costs of the new stadiums were funded using public dollars.2 In Utah, 4 stadiums have been built since 1991 costing $386 million in today’s dollars; $200 million (in today’s dollars) of that total was paid out of the coffers of Utah cities, Salt Lake County and the State of Utah.3 Across the nation, franchises have argued that building a new stadium will lead to economic development in the form of increased incomes, jobs and tax revenues. However, the preponderance of academic research has disputed these claims. This article looks at the benefits and costs of building a stadium and discusses why the economic development argument has failed to stand up to academic scrutiny. Stadium-seeking franchises are now shying away from making economic development claims in light of the strong research findings.

(from https://gardner.utah.edu/_documents/publications/finance-tax/sports-stadiums.pdf ) [PDF]

See also:

https://www.brookings.edu/articles/sports-jobs-taxes-are-new-stadiums-worth-the-cost/

http://knowledgecenter.csg.org/kc/content/professional-sports-stadiums-subsidized-public-funds-it-fair-taxpayers

https://www.sportscasting.com/taxpayer-money-billion-dollar-stadiums/

This is a clear way in which popular team sports are substantially detrimental to the quality of life of millions of people (a cost that, as usual, falls primarily on people of lower tiers of socioeconomic status). Eliminating this massive waste of taxpayer funds, and redirecting said funds to more productive purposes, would be a great boon to the economies of all the locales mentioned in these articles/studies, and would benefit many more people than the stadiums do.

About "you don’t really hear a lot about sports in the future", I was wondering if professional sport would still be viewed as a job and in a future world where nobody "works", professional sport might not be as aspirational as it is today. Would that be an other reason why sport is underrepresented ?

What are counter examples of sports in Sci-Fi ? I can think of some robots fighting "sports" (Reel Steel, Gunmm, first episode of Love, Death and Robots), some racing (Speeders race in Star Wars), the hunger games as a kind of revisited roman ludi.  I have a faint memory of some kind of low gravity handball but I can't recall the source.

Final Fantasy X has a sci-fi sport called "blitz ball" that is played in a spherical swimming pool.  (The athletes are inexplicably immune to suffocation.)  Structurally resembles sports like soccer or hockey, with two teams of players competing for control of a ball, and goals defended by goalies.

The Ian Banks novel The Player of Games includes depictions of board games, VR fighting games, and an absurdly-complicated, vaguely-described game that an alien empire uses to determine everyone's rank in society.  Some or all of those might count as "sports" depending on how you define the term, though none of them seem like central examples.

You might want to check out the Orion's Arm Universe Project, https://www.orionsarm.com/ - it's a science fiction world set ten thousand years in the future which has been collaboratively developed (anyone can join) for over twenty years now, and it's much more diverse than typical "everything is chrome in the future" visions. (In fact "Diversity!!!" is literally their motto.) This simplifying trend is not universal; I think it is really just an example of people being too lazy to think carefully about what would realistically actually happen in a future scenario.

I'm really glad you pointed out the stuff about sports though - I agree with some of the other commenters that for the most part, in the physical world, the sports that currently exist are a waste of resources, but the concept of sport in general is extremely valuable and I would like to see a wide variety of VR sports become popular once full-body VR is a thing. I'd even be interested in engaging in VR version of actual violent warfare, since it wouldn't actually harm anybody in that context - but perhaps I'm unusual in that respect.

Also note, solarpunk tends to be highly colorful, but that's a rather new development of the past few years (and one much closer to my own aesthetic than most "future" stuff).

Orion's Arm sounds cool! Thanks for sharing, I'll check it out. 

George Orwell in The Sporting Spirit disagreed with the take that sports are a force for good. He saw them as gross manifestations of nationalism. 

Communal sadism and the inability to recognize and control one's own primal urges. The outlet does not tame those urges but driving them toward their manifestations, giving form of those emotions and thoughts into actions. Warfare is the most extreme display of such human nature, but things like sports and fight for social status are also just different sides of the same coin. There is a very fine line between engaging in those activities for the sake of passive enjoyment and the desire to make winners and losers. Just look at competitive video games. The only healthy way to engage in those activities is when you have no desire to win whatsoever. The moment you care about winning, it becomes merely a means to an end.

It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence

In a big town one must indulge in group activities if one wants an outlet for one’s physical strength or for one’s sadistic impulses.

This is absurd. There is nothing wrong with competitiveness, and the majority of people who play competitive video games are not suffering from it. Sure, there's always griefers who win at all costs and enjoy humiliating weaker players, but nobody wants to play with people like that.

There is a joy in striving against an equal opponent that cannot be found in anything purely cooperative, and which is not intrinsically harmful in the slightest. In fact, the urge to seek social status, which you denigrate as something horrible, is probably the only reason humans intensely care about anything other than survival and reproduction in the first place.

There's also nothing wrong with "primal urges". They are not intrinsically destructive - they are only destructive if indulged in the physical world. I often envision future VR sports, or even warfare, where people experience intense "physical" competition in a virtual world, perhaps even including artificial pain sensations etc, but then return to their bodies and are safe and sound. I think it would be fun. Note also that sex is a primal urge, and it too can be dangerous due to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies - are you against it too?

What drove you to write this reply?

The same thing that drove you to write yours.

Are you familiar with Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series? One of the major groups in the series, the Humanists, are very focused on human excellence and potential. They’re very closely tied to the Olympics and competitive sports. Incidentally, the world of Terra Ignota is quite colorful (metaphorically, because it’s a series of novels) and imo does a better than average job representing diverse lifestyles and aesthetics.

No, but that sounds really cool! I'll check it out. 

Deaths from despair (suicide, drug overdose, addiction) have become so prevalent as to cause an unprecedented

This got duplicated.

fixed - thanks! 

I think construal theory is an interesting but not entirely satisfactory explanation for some of the features of the 'futuristic' aesthetic. 

An alternative explanation is that most thinking about the future assumes broad trajectories in civilisational development. In particular, they assume the further expansion of what you might call 'universalised functionalisation', by which I mean the transformation of all human culture into efficiently purposeful objects and their increasingly complete coordination around the same ends. The most striking example of this is probably the Transcension Hypothesis, but there are many fewer absolutist forms of the same idea.

The lack specifically of ornamentation in the futuristic aesthetic would therefore stem from an assumption of its irrationality, and perhaps even its tendency to hinder the effective development of technology's functions.

Having written that, I can see that these are perhaps only the features of a specific worldview, as you wrote.

Placing this in a social or even adversarial context, I wonder if there is also an assumed tendency for adversarial groups to increasingly not mistake symbolic power for real power, which would power the same anti-ornamentation stance in military technology development. That's a very fuzzy intuition though at the moment, and perhaps it's too conspiratorial to believe that military technological development is determinative of our futuristic imaginary.

EDIT: Something similar to this is claimed in the article that Hanson links to. They point out that at higher levels of construal, higher points on the abstract hierarchy of reasons for action are imagined more intensely. That is, near thought imagines motivations like 'enjoying this specific meal' but far thought imagines things like 'sustaining myself to accomplish my other goals'. This also might account for the particular homogeneity of food in the futuristic aesthetic.

New to LessWrong?