In Trees on Mars, cultural critic and novelist Hal Niedzviecki argues that our society’s singular emphasis on creating and owning the “future” is unprecedented in human history. Never before has what is going to happen mattered more than what is happening.
In this groundbreaking book, Niedzviecki journeys through the age of future. Hanging out with would-be entrepreneurs in the frenzied halls of famed tech conference South by Southwest Interactive, he discovers just how far people will go to own the future. On the campus of newly founded Cornell Tech, he learns how the ideology of “future first” is reshaping higher education. At the California headquarters of the ESRI Corporation, he learns that companies and institutions from governments to police departments to coffee shop chains are spending millions of dollars collecting and mapping the data they hope will help them know and control the future. Along the way, Niedzviecki examines how the idea of owning the future became so irresistible to us. Exploring everything from evolution to psychology to economics, he discovers the many ways that the idea of owning tomorrow is shaping our deepest, most unconscious mental processes and desires.
Finally, Niedzviecki looks at the consequences of this new social shift to future first: Are there people and communities being left behind? In the lives of the Latino warehouse workers of southern California, Niedzviecki finds a growing underclass of workers doomed by futuristic technology to a piecemeal life of precarious labor and looming obsolescence. At a gathering of recent university grads desperate to find meaningful employment, Niedzviecki finds surging anxiety as these young people try to figure out how they can succeed at a time when success is all about coming up with the next idea that can change the future. On the road with a trucker/survivalist, Niedzviecki learns that a growing subset of people feel so left out of the promised techno tomorrow, they actually yearn for the end of days. In the final chapters of the book, Niedzviecki explores the consequences of future obsession and wonders: What really comes next for the human race?