The increasingly madcap schemes of technology companies and a certain US President have got us all thinking about the future. Where will we live? Will there be any jobs? Will any of that matter after the forthcoming nuclear apocalypse?
The V&A attempts to answer these questions and more, splitting itself into four Tomorrow’s World zones that address politics, the planet, the afterlife and the self.
First up is a smart home that goes beyond Nest thermostats and eco-lightbulbs and asks whether all this connectedness is actually making us more lonely by removing the need for human interaction. There’s a particularly heart-rending cuddly seal, for instance, which responds realistically to human touch – it’s being trialled by the NHS for use by dementia patients to provide affection to those without family or pets. Sob.
You might need a go on the seal after you visit the next exhibit, a miserable ‘dining experience’ at a table for one, with only a bottle of depressing meal substitute Soylent for company.
Things perk up in the citizenship zone, which, paradoxically, suggests the future will be bursting with compassion, refugee flags, newspapers and even an app that helps displaced peoples overcome bureaucratic obstacles by creating new addresses for them.
Elsewhere, Norman Foster’s firm has gifted its models for Masdar, its new city in Abu Dhabi, and Apple Park, its doughnut design for the company’s headquarters, so visitors can visualise where they’ll live and work in the year 2030.
After the seals and Soylent, the planet zone – which asks ‘If Mars is the answer, what is the question?’ – is where the sexy science lives. Wrap your noggin around international space law, Martian topography and man-made atmospheric pollution.
As I suspected, the afterlife is pretty sparse, but there is life-affirming testimony from an inventive amputee, and four live Kickstarter projects, including an open-source geiger counter and a special edition of the record blasted into space on the Voyager spacecraft (they will run until the show closes in November).
At times it can be a little overwhelming, perhaps inevitably with a subject this large and speculative. But there’s much to admire in the ambition, if not always the execution. Above all it reaffirms just how many people and companies there are, right now, dreaming, problem-solving and striving to make the world a better place. If the future starts here, there’s hope for us yet.