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The future isn’t what it used to be

3 October 2011

Promises, promises...

When I grew up, many years ago, Russia was called the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia was one country, Germany was two and America was putting people on the moon.  I remember promises of permanent moon bases (even cities!) and the prospect of interplanetary tourism before the end of the century.  Mars would be visited, conquered, colonised and perhaps even terra-formed within a few generations.

Add to that all the sci-fi novels, films and TV shows portraying a near future (or nowadays, a recent past) with flying cars, robots and space ships, and the future looked pretty damn exciting.

But here we are in 2011, and it’s like nothing has changed. The streets are still jam-packet with fossil-fueled cars, the sky filled with sub-sonic jet planes (most of which are more than 30 years old) and all major cities are still powered by old-fashioned fission reactors (or worse: coal fueled power plants). In fact, if you could transport people from 50 years ago and drop them into todays society they would probably feel very much at home. Sure, clothes, hairstyles and interior design has changed a little bit but is mostly stuck in retro-revivals; MacDonald’s still sell their original cheese burgers and Pepsi and Coca Cola are still slugging it out for world dominance.

The archetypical (non-existing) flying car.

If anything, things have gone backwards: NASA has more or less abandoned any future interplanetary space exploration, and with the Russians more concerned with low-orbit space stations than landing on the moon or Mars it doesn’t look likely we will ever see any permanent colonies off-world. Sure, other countries are entering the space age, but none of them seem capable or willing to pick up the slack and re-start the space race. It is like we’ve had our Concorde moment, and now we’re just trodding along making do with what we can afford.

The planet Mars - if it had ever been terra-formed.

That’s not to say there haven’t been any progress at all. Having a personal wireless telephone is quite cool. Also, that satellite aided navigation thing is rather convenient. And those internet-based social media networks are pretty awesome. But it’s not the kind of drastic “things will never be the same again” kind of changes we grew up expecting.

So, in spite of the latest technological advances I still feel cheated. It’s like we missed the window of opportunity and the future didn’t happen. As @lgalaviz so eloquently put it: “The future isn’t what it used to be”.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 October 2011 21:23

    I was watching a show on space travel where the astronauts described the fact that photons often shoot right into the ship and through your brain. And while they didn’t specifically mention this, I am pretty sure when get to your space destination there won’t be a Starbucks. NASA probably realized that having no coffee with photons shooting into your head can’t be a good combination.


  2. 3 October 2011 21:24

    I think rather than getting flying cars, we should tie all our cars down to the road even more than they are now. Maybe we can put them on rails so we can all safely text while we are driving.


    • 3 October 2011 21:36

      Ah! This is one thing I’m actually quite excited about: self-steering cars. We’ve already got cars that accelerate and break autonomously, and now several companies working on getting cars to run on auto-pilot all together.

      That would be great, obviously: automatic cars would always drive safely, never be tired, cranky, drunk or ill, and they would always know were they’re going, even in the dark.

      And it would leave us humans free to text and tweet all we like!


  3. 30 December 2011 06:16

    I reckon they’ve just stopped talking about it so that they can surprise us with it one day. We’ll be all sitting down watching tv or walking places when BAM! Suddenly we have flying cars, trips to go live in other galaxies, Vulcans roaming amongst us raising their one eyebrows nonchalantly, little badges that we can press and are suddenly talking to a person in a spaceship, teleportation, hibernation chambers to survive lightyear travel, and of course … Hoverboards.

    If they TOLD you they were working on these, where would the surprise be huh?


  4. 30 December 2011 11:19

    i liked the future just as it was.


    • 30 December 2011 11:22

      Me too! I’m VERY disappointed!

      (Although, to quote They Might Be Giants: “If it wasn’t for disappointment I wouldn’t have any appointment”)


  5. 20 November 2012 04:23

    I don’t know, Andreas, do we really need flying cars and moon-stations? We’d just crash our flying cars and mess up the moon with space-litter.

    I’m happy with what I’ve got. Thing is, I have very low expectations. Every time I use the internet, I think, “WHOA. Wouldn’t high school Amy have thought this was SO COOL?” and I giggle. So, yeah, I’m easily amused. Everything seems pretty shiny in this future to me.


    • 20 November 2012 08:11

      But I was PROMISED, Amy! Someone broke their promise, and a little boys heart. That’s just not cricket. It gets my dander right up.


      • 20 November 2012 14:45

        WHO promised? Politicians? If it’s politicians, they lie. If it was scientists, that’s pretty disappointing, I do have to admit.

        I don’t like that little you’s heart was broken, though. That makes me super-sad.


        • 20 November 2012 18:32

          I don’t remember, being all broken-hearted and stuff. Probably politicians. And scientists too. All of them were all big horrible liars. And there were films about it also.

          Don’t worry, I’m not so broken-hearted anymore. But I still resent being born in what is essentially the dark ages. I mean, come ON. Whose idea was that? I’m just asking.



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