Silicon Valley wants us to believe the future will be a better place. Science fiction — a genre stuffed with dystopian projections of humanity's decline — often has us imagine the opposite.
Any computer nerd will tell you these two visions aren't incompatible. Many people indulge in dystopian fiction while trying to create a better future in real life. But what happens when you look for that future utopia in fiction?
According to Google co-founder Larry Page, the result may be disappointing.
Page recently went to see Tomorrowland, the new Disney movie that imagines a happy city of the future, he told Google shareholders at the company's annual meeting today.
"I was interested in a version of the future that would be positive, because that's so seldom portrayed in science fiction or movies," Page said. "I came away from that and thought, well, it's not a good story because it's not dark."
The movie, he said, "tries to portray the future positively and fails."
Tomorrowland, directed by Brad Bird, was a box office disappointment and has been poorly received by critics. It has a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes. A. O. Scott of the New York Times wrote that the film, "searching for incitements to dream, finds slogans and mistakes them for poetry."
It may be more difficult to successfully tell a utopian story than a dystopian one, Page said.
"There's a real bias that it's much easier to focus on the negative — stoke up fear with all the things that could go wrong," he said. "It's very hard to find positive views of the future in general."
Page told the anecdote in response to a question from a young shareholder who said his experience at law school had left him disillusioned about the future.
The Google chief urged the questioner to stay positive. He said the world was getting better by "any measure," including an alleviation of poverty.
But he said fiction tends to convey the opposite impression.
"Don't let that get you down," Page said.