From Anna Della Subin in the LRB, writing about the Sumerian poet and priest Enheduana:
Enheduana’s hymns share in the genre of the lament, which priests such as the gala would perform not to express mourning but to avert future catastrophe. It was thought that the gods might rain misfortune on men ‘simply to prove how powerful they were’, Helle writes. To avoid this, the lamenter would show the gods that he recognised their fearsome powers by inventing horrific scenarios for them to inflict on humans. Ritual grieving would follow, ‘making a future show of force unnecessary’.
This is a new take on the dystopian futures that accompany tech-optimism: perhaps stories about addiction, disconnection, harm and the end of social cohesion are prophylactic futures, laments to assuage the gods of technology and progress. Rather than avoiding these possible futures through human imagination and agency, choosing the right path in order to avoid these terrible things, perhaps these images of the future prevent bad things coming true by demonstrating our submission to these gods. A kind of negative anticipation, relying on the future’s agency instead of our own.