Even the bleakest accounts of the future are more additive than subtractive. They assume the invention of new things and not the loss of things that already exist. The torment in 1984 comes via two-way “telescreens” and clandestine recording systems. Robert Harris’s new novel, The Second Sleep, set in a boggy Dark Ages to come, is exceptional in this regard. It grants that time brings stasis and backsliding as often as progress.

Here, then, is a subtractive vision of the future. It is not my base case but it is ever more plausible. Few will find it heart-rending stuff but I offer it with a certain dread. It could spell the end of my way of life, and perhaps yours.

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