I remember as a child always being fascinated by the roman numeral dates at the end of television programmes [and wondering why this format for the date?] As a writer of dystopian fiction I am also interested in how works of futuristic fiction get their dates. For example these science fiction stories/movies Escape from L.A. (1996), The Postman (1997), A Scanner Darkly (2006), The Book of Eli (2010) are set in 2013.
Arguably, apart from Orwell’s 1984 [in mood at least; surveillance and bureaucratic control specifically, not world situation/setting] most other fictions get their dates maddeningly wrong. Perhaps necessarily so for such works of speculative fiction? As unless such cataclysms come to pass the events depicted will obviously be ‘wrong [whether set to a date or not].
It is a tough challenge.
Set a date too far in the future and the average reader will expect ray-guns and rocket-ships at warp-speed [anything less and they will not believe the ‘future’ has arrived; it being that the 21st Century once seemed a ‘futurist’ time-frame given the rapid technological advances of the mid to late 20th Century]. Moreover a far away date is more alienating, as it is not a time/place most readers/viewers will expect to experience.
Conversely, set a date not far enough in advance and the narrative will quickly outpace real events and become outdated; as the above mentioned films have now become.
The best option in my opinion [unless as an author one is specifically interested in how one’s work will age and therefore critiqued in the future] is to set no date. If one must, then the best bet is to aim for a ‘continual present’ [though of course any ‘technology’ in the narrative will automatically date a story unless otherwise explained; Vinyl Records / Mobile Phones / non-flat screen TVs / Cigarettes]. The best example I have seen of this is the strapline at the opening of Max Headroom the original 1985 British Television movie, fully titled Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future [which I have used ever since, as 20 minutes seems somehow perfect].
Now whatever happened to those promised Zik Zak ‘blipverts’?