Hoffen und Bangen

Zur Mediengeschichte der Zukunft

  • Gundolf S. Freyermuth Technische Hochschule Köln, Cologne Game Lab


The paper explores the history of the future in Western society, from the Renaissance to the post-pandemic present, and the media through which the shifting visions of the future are expressed. Four distinct phases are identified: the pre-modern era and its quest for a secular future focusing on the organizational improvement of worldly conditions; the modern era, which emphasized progress and the promise of better times ahead; the post-modern era, marked by dystopian scenarios of humanity’s destruction of the planet; the current period and its aspirations for humanity’s evolution through digital technology. – An accumulating number of ‘new’ media have shaped these designs of the future: First, the printed book allowed for the literary evocation of utopian and early science fiction visions. Later, the industrial media of film and television represented imagined futures audiovisually. Currently, digital games provide interactive simulations of dystopian and utopian futures, enabling immersive experiences and cyborg-like engagement. The further evolution of media may hybridize material reality and different software virtualities, thus facilitating extended experiences of potential futures. – The paper demonstrates that – as a consequence of changing cultural values and technological advances – four overarching “grand narratives” have structured the modern media history of the future: the humanistic metanarrative of secularization in pre-industrial modernity; the mass humanistic metanarrative of welfare through progress in the industrial age; the post-humanistic metanarrative of the climate catastrophe during the de-industrialization and early digitalization period; and finally, the emerging transhumanistic metanarrative of an impending digital singularity entailing a technological augmentation of the human species.

Special Issue: Die Frage nach dem Wahren, Guten und Schönen in virtuellen Räumen