Why we should be optimistic about technology

In 2030, hybrid design studio and think tank Modem will close its doors for good – giving co-founder Bas van de Poel just eight years to figure out how design can shape a better future using technology. But he remains cheerful

For many people, visions of the future seem bleak. Where the likes of science fiction author Arthur C Clarke and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry imagined technological advances that propelled humanity forward, the current feeling is one of deep scepticism. Some would argue that we’re closer to the dystopian futures imagined by author Octavia E Butler, whose Parable of the Sower novel depicted big tech firms abusing their power to effectively enslave workers.

As it stands, social media platforms manipulate us, cryptocurrency and NFTs contribute to environmental damage, and many believe artificial intelligence threatens the livelihood of artists and designers. While technology has historically enabled creative people to make work, there’s a prevailing feeling of worry about where it’s all going – particularly as conversations around the metaverse dominate.

But Modem co-founder Bas van de Poel is a rare voice of balance. He agrees that challenging macroeconomic conditions and the climate emergency are all contributing to people’s “future fatigue”, meaning many of us have lost our trust in, or ability to imagine, better outcomes. But he advocates for a more positive outlook.

Portrait photo of Modem co-founder Bas van de Poel
Bas van de Poel

“Technology is a double-edged sword. It can serve great public good, but at the same time it can also destroy our social and democratic fabric,” he tells CR. “But I think it’s quite easy to end in this Black Mirror-esque type of conversation. You should be optimistic but not naïve. It’s like dystopia or pessimism is the starting point, and I don’t find it a great attitude in life – to just lay down and surrender, ­basically, especially as a designer.