Mark the time with Brood X.
I don’t go out for about six weeks.
It’s because of the cicadas, of course – the trillions of them that have emerged or will soon emerge from the ground across parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest like disgusting popcorn. After 17 years Brood X is back and here to torment me. (My phobia of insects is intense. Once, while I was in therapy, a cockroach fallen from a curtain on the floor. I grabbed my bag – what if the cockroach rushed in ?? – and I jumped across the room before my therapist even realized what was going on. She killed him but said later that she should have made me do it. Also, when I was about 8 years old, my younger brother hid a bunch of cicadas in my bed. A cat found them before me. I never forgave him, not that he apologized.)
This year the cicadas are even worse than usual, because there is a fungus that is drop their buttocks then making them act even crazier for sex than usual. What is evolution?
When the horror of what’s going on outside starts to hit me, I try to distract myself by thinking of the cicadas in terms of the weather. Brood X Returns offers a bizarre version of the list that circulates annually and is meant to remind professors of the life experiences of their freshmen. (Last year’s list indicated that for members of the Class of 2024, Vladimir Putin has always been the leader of Russia.) As Lawrence Downes said in the Washington Post:
“Let humans step forward in human time, building up the milestones to promote this year’s failed cicadas: the first iPhone and the first black president; the two new popes; Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy; Captain “Sully” Sullenberger landing his damaged jet on the Hudson; the IRA laying down its arms and countless others taking them; Olympic Games in Athens, Beijing, London and Rio. When this year’s cicadas were juvenile and grublike, Mark Zuckerberg was an undergraduate student at Harvard. (Facebook, the swarm it unleashed, has yet to run its course.) The plagues, notably Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, were toppled while the cicadas waited; others are still raging or getting worse. Some afflictions have erupted and subsided, such as Zika and Ebola and “High School Musical”. “
Not Mentioned In This List: Donald Trump had just started his new act as a reality TV star.
We often think of the future and the past in neat numbers ending in zero: decades, centuries, millennia. But then people confuse things even more by saying that in fact the 90s didn’t end until 2003 or maybe it was still the 90s in 2015. We group humans into arbitrary batches called generations, as if one person born in 1982 had more in common with another. millennium from 1996 than a Gen Xer from 1978.
On the other hand, there is something so orderly about the rhythm of the 17-year-old cicadas and their chaos: each emergence is the punctuation of one era and the capital letter towards another, a clear delineation instead of the years that bleed them. into each other.
Thinking in terms of cicadas eras rather than generations or decades also works for the future. The next time Brood X emerges, it’ll be in 2038. By then Gen Z will be bickering with whatever comes next (and I’ll continue to roll my eyes at the very concept of Generation Wars). A lot of the same political figures will always be there – I’m afraid we will be doomed to listen to Josh Hawley for decades to come. Perhaps Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez will have completed her first presidential race. God willing, The real housewives of New York will be in his 30se year. TikTok will be a punchline like MySpace.
Or maybe not! Straight-line projections of future work except when it fails completely. Maybe the next time Brood X emerges, AOC and Hawley will have quit politics to do a joint magic show every night at a Vegas residence. I just hope that by then I live in a place where my literal nightmare does not come true.
Here are stories from Future Tense’s recent past.
I wish we posted this
“Let’s use beautiful and bold hearing aids to celebrate deafness”, by Jaipreet Virdi, Psyche
Future Tense recommends
I’m late to Mythic Quest group wagon, but I’m so happy to be here now. The show, whose second season on Apple TV + recently debuted, is the best workplace comedy since Office. Located at the headquarters of a successful video game, the owner Mythic Quest, it follows a group of characters who are all gruesome but not off-putting. When Poppy, the young chief engineer and the only woman at the helm, is due to give a speech about being a woman in tech, I almost cried with laughter. Leslee Sullivant, who has been in the game for over a decade, told my colleague Slate Nitish Pahwa that she initially thought the show looked “a little squeaky,” but after watching she became a fan. And the show has hands down the best midlife episode I’ve seen.
And then: to be determined
In this week’s episode of Slate’s tech podcast, host Lizzie O’Leary talks with the Wall Street Journal’s David Uberti about how the Colonial Pipeline hack may have shaken the ransomware industry. Last week, Samanth Subramanian of Lizzie and Quartz explained why India, home to the world’s largest vaccine maker, does not have enough COVID-19 vaccines for its citizens.
Events to come
Join us online Wednesday, June 9 at 6 p.m. EST for the first Science Fiction / Real Policy Book Club meeting, presented by Future Tense and our partners Issues in Science and Technology. Our first book: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz. Autonomous follows the story of a pharmaceutical hacker named Jack, an anti-patent scientist who set out to bring cheap drugs to the poor. Without revealing too many spoilers, Newitz’s story also includes a love story between a military agent and a robot, a quest for justice, and the danger that late capitalist modernity poses to the person. RSVP here.
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Future Tense is a partnership between Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.