Peter York On Ads: You travel in time to 2178 and all you get are flying footballers

The future's got a long history, you know. I'm convinced that in the fantastically creaky, camp (men in skirts) film 'Things to Come', made in 1936, a group of skirty thesps look over a sort of prow of the universe and intone "The future" in a crazed way.

Future-casting's always been a great job for novelists and film makers. What we love now is seeing where they got it right and wrong, playing schadenfreude with great artists and minor ones. It's very levelling. The sets of 'Metropolis' or a Marinetti painting are surprisingly effective – were they just projecting things they'd already seen emerging in New York?

It's when you move from a building aesthetic or a particular invention to a social world that everything starts to go wrong. Future-facing writers and film-makers haven't been that good at realising future mindsets, the stream of modern consciousness. Alex in 'A Clockwork Orange' has an elegant Old Culture turn of phrase and reference beneath the choreographed brutality. But there's nothing that elegant about inarticulate hoodies. It's terribly hard to anticipate an attitude and get the words to fit.

And it's difficult to get the social context right, too. Future-casters always seem to fall into the trap of imagining that a few bits of astonishing new technology will make for utterly new social relationships. So a lot of instant information will foster rationality and high-minded conversation, for instance, whereas we know it means online dating and sending silly pictures round the world.

Conversely, there's the danger of fitting remarkable change – spaceships and time machines – into a social world that hasn't moved an inch, like the Edwardians did. People don't use new technologies in the ways their inventors expect; they subvert, convert and hybridise them.

I was once heavily involved with a government future-casting initiative. It involved my betters – high-level scientists and economists – and they'd thought it through; they'd got a Method and Processes and Metrics (such as the Delphi approach to predicting the likelihood of a given development). But the problem was that it covered practically every kind of endeavour in our national life. And the Method and the Process had to be applied to a group of wildly dissimilar worlds, from aerospace to entertainment. And that's where it broke down.

At the same time as all that government and corporate scenario planning (all the biggest Incs and Plcs are doing it), there was the Golden Age of cool-hunting, in the go-ahead Nineties (it's so over now). Cool-hunting tried to predict the future in terms of the really important things in life – the design of trainers, ways to wear a scarf – by, broadly, identifying and observing people who were dummy-running the future already.

Puma probably still has cool-hunters coming out of its ears. Its new commercial is set in an imagined future – CGI-generated, of course. It starts with one of those aerial views of an electric twilight city of tall buildings and greenish lights (which always makes me think of Seventies disco). It's AD 2178. Down there's a vast sports stadium, where a new technology has enabled football players to bounce and fly. They've got extraordinary new metallic legs, a cross between sci-fi horses and the double amputee athlete Oscar Pistorius's weird Cheetah carbon-fibre blades. It all makes for some remarkable playing, but why do they think anyone's going to be remotely interested in football in 2178?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England