Journalists are comically attached to linear narratives even when trying to wake up in 2041

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 29, 2021

Photo by La Victorie on Unsplash

Journalism is a very different profession from writing fiction (as I have learnt, slowly, painfully, from and with the best of them) and thank god for that. You don’t really want journalists making up things and doing so with verve and panache, do you?

That said, the paucity of journalists’ imagination would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Most journalists don’t have much imagination, find it really hard to – in the cliché – think outside the box, and are almost comically attached to linear narratives. Unlike novelists, journalists don’t generally think of storylines that run in loops or veer off into the distance, never to be seen again, or zigzag back the other way, only to suddenly come to a halt.

When Donald Trump was elected US president, many journalists said they really must try and go beyond the obvious. Then, came the coronavirus pandemic and still more journalists vowed they would be really creative in understanding what they sought to explain to their audience.

And yet, a pretty significant newspaper’s pretty significant newsletter recently tried to peer 20 years into the future (paywall) and came up with a tedious, unimaginative and long list, from which I cite just four predictions below. (It had a great headline and premise – waking up in 2041 – but everything else was quite dull).

  • Cities will be almost everyone’s home in 2041. Roughly 70 per cent of the world population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050, according to data from the United Nations.
  • Energy consumption will go up. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the world will need about 28 per cent more energyin 2040 than it did in 2015.
  • High streets (or main streets in the US) will have a lot more warehouses and vertical farms because everyone will need everything right now.
  • Everyone will live longer, according to UN forecasts.

See what that journalist crystal ball-gazer did up there? He took a bunch of data, looked at the way we’ve always lived, stirred it up a bit to account for likely future changes, re-shaped the mess and expelled the whole thing as a series of smooth, perfectly formed pellets.

The journalist didn’t think particularly hard about the intangibles. And the impossibles. How can more people live in cities, while cities also have more warehouses and vertical farms? Won’t they run out of space? Will everyone really live longer when air quality, extreme weather events, water scarcity and rising sea levels are becoming a reality? And are we really going to be able to consume more…more things, more energy and so on?

See what I mean – journalists really don’t have much imagination.