The Right to the Future Tense

This is from Shoshana Zuboff’s important “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”.  These first few paragraphs of the chapter called “The Right to the Future Tense” leaped out at me as a profoundly evocative description of a writer’s world:

I wake early.  The day begins before I open my eyes.  My mind is in motion.  Words and sentences have streamed through my dreams, solving problems on yesterday’s pages.  The first work of the day is to retrieve those words that lay open a puzzle.  Only then am I ready to awaken my senses.   I try to discern each birdcall in the symphony outside of our windows: the phoebe, redwing, blue jay, mocking bird, woodpecker, finch, starling and chickadee.   Soaring above all their songs are the cries of geese over the lake.  I splash warm water on my face, drink cool water to coax my body into alertness, and commune with our dog in the still-silent house.   I make coffee and bring it into my study, where I settle into my desk chair, call up my screen, and begin.   I think.  I write these words. and imagine you reading them.  I do this every day of every week– as I have for several years, and it is likely that I will continue to do so for one or two years to come.

I watch the seasons from the windows above my desk: first green, then red and gold, then white, and then back to green again.   When friends come to visit, they peek into my study.   There are books and papers stacked on every surface and most of the floor.  I know they feel overwhelmed at this sight, and sometimes I sense that they silently pity me for my obligation to this work and how it circumscribes my days.  I do not think that they realize how free I am.  In fact, I have never felt more free.   How is this possible?

I made a promise to complete this work.   This promise is my flag planted in the future tense. It represents my commitment to construct a future that cannot come into being should I abandon my promise.   This future will not exist without my capacity first to imagine its facts and then to will them into being.  I am an inchworm moving with determination and purpose across the distance between now and later.   Each tiny increment of territory that I traverse is annexed to the known world, as my effort transforms uncertainty into fact.   Should I renege on my promise, the world would not collapse.   My publisher would survive the abrogation of our contract.  You would find many other books to read.  I would move on to other projects. 

My promise, though, is an anchor that girds me against the vagaries of my moods and temptations.  It is the product of my will to will and a compass that steers my course toward a desired future that is not yet real.  Events may originate in energy sources outside my will and abruptly alter my course in ways that I can neither predict nor control.   Indeed, they have already done so.   Despite this certain knowledge of uncertainty, I have no doubt that I am free.   I can promise to create a future, and I can keep my promise.  If the book that I have imagined is to exist in the future, it must be because I will it so.  I live in an expansive landscape that already includes a future that only I can imagine and intend.   In my world, this book I write already exists.  In fulfilling my promise, I make it manifest.  This act of will is my claim to the future tense.  

To make a promise is to predict the future; to fulfill a promise through the exercise of will turns that prediction into fact.  Our hearts pump blood, our kidneys filter that blood, and our wills create the future in the patient discovery of each new sentence or step.   This is how we claim our right to speak in the first person as the author of our futures. (…)

 

from The Age of Surveillance Capitalism:  The Fight for A Human Future at the New Frontier of Power   (pp.   329-330)   (c) 2019  Shoshana Zuboff  —  published by Hatchette Book Group

 my “review” of this masterpiece by Shoshana Zuboff

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