Thursday, June 07, 2007

Predicting the Future. Or not.

I ran into an unusual author, not long ago-- at my kid's awards assembly. Okay, it was an award's "ceremony." And my kid is 28 and a Ph.D. candidate. But I digress. The speaker for this august occasion was a robotics whiz-kid who looked about 13 and had a newly minted Ph.D. and a shirt that had never once been tucked into his pants. He was the author. His second book-- which he so graciously autographed after I forked over $14.00-- is "Where's My Jet Pack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived."

I didn't mind paying the freight. . . because I've been wondering for years what happened to MY jet pack. And that "kitchen of the future" that I was promised back in the late 50's and early 60's. And the robot maid everyone was going to have to do house work. And the car that drove itself so we could play a quick hand of Cannasta on the way to the mall. And the ray gun. And the Universal Translator. And the X-Ray glasses. I was shocked to learn that some of these things actually do exist. . . the machine that can see through clothes, for example. Yes, it's real. And in use. And I can't tell you where because then I'd have to kill you.

The young genius/author seemed inordinately preoccupied with the "unisex jumpsuits" that were frequently predicted to be the clothing of choice for the developed world by the year 2000. Personally, I'm relieved we were spared that one, and you should be grateful, too. I have seen myself in Spandex.

But as I listened, I began to think about how much the old future looks very much like the current past. In other words. . . most things haven't changed as much as we expected them to: dishwashers are still dishwashers, refrigerators and stoves are still quite recognizable, and vacuum cleaners are still "Hoover" shaped. We still have automobiles with rubber tires and owner-operated steering wheels. And after nearly 60 years. . . you still have to be 16 to get a learner's permit. We still "go to the store" for food and still prepare it ourselves. . . unless we're eating out. Then we pay some other human to do the work. Movies are still shown on big screens in darkened theaters, accompanied by popcorn. . . even though we can now also watch them on little two inch screens we carry in our pockets.

But some of the things we least expected to change have changed like crazy! My Little Kitty cell phones for 7 year olds. "Smart clothes." Banking and bill paying online. "Chipped" pets. Videos-gone viral. . . and seen all over the world. Instantaneous MPH calculations in our cars. Rear video cameras that come on when cars are put into reverse. Self-parking cars. Caller ID. Individual DNA analysis that can hand you your entire DNA make-up on a two CD set. (Yes, there is that pesky little million dollar fee) Miniature TV cameras you swallow so they can check out your GI tract. Satellites that can read your license plates from 60 miles straight up. Antibiotics you take in only three days. . .

All of which led me to speculate on what kinds of changes we might expect fifty and a hundred years from now. Here are a few of MY predictions. . . some of which I freely admit are pure wishful thinking:

*Cell phones will shrink to ear-canal size and be entirely voice activated. We will all look like Jack Bauer on a mission. And there will be no earthly place to hide from a phone call, not even from your mother-in-law.
*Text messaging and e-mail will merge entirely. . . fed to a heads-up display on the insides of cool glasses everyone will wear. (Nobody will wear glasses to correct vision. . . that will all be done by 15 minutes of surgery.) All computer and eyeglass controls will be voice activated, so those gigantic thumbs our teenagers are developing from text-messaging will begin to shrink again.
*People over 50 will take to wearing unisex mumu's. . . to camouflage the gi-normous butts they have developed from never having to walk-- not even around their own houses.
*People will make and star in their own movies, which will become hideous, faux-artsy versions of the old "slides from our vacation". You'll be trapped in then trendy"viewing rooms" with Bubba Nextdoor. . . who has no concept of how to do a proper green screen layover and who hires stand-ins for his own kids because they're still in orthodontic headgear!
*Mortgages become so expensive many people just skip houses and opt to live in well equipped minivans. Some children's will grow up in a Caravan or a Toyota. . . never having slept in anything but a reclining bucket seat.
*Plastic Surgery will be required for anyone declared a "Public Ugly." Repeat offenders will be sentenced to punitive cosmetic procedures and forced to spend years as Paris Hilton look-alikes.
*Fat will be the new slim! By which time, I will be. . . too damned old to care.

What about you? What are your predictions for the future world? What would you LIKE to see come to fruition in the world of tomorrow? What would you love to have now that you don't have?


Michele Hauf said...

Love it, Betina!

I know what I want, as an author, in the future--or rather, right now. A device that records my thoughts. That way, when I'm lying in bed, drifting off, and get this incredible scene for a story, it'll all just be printed out for me in the morning when I wake.

It just never seems to be the same if you have to wait until the next morning to actually type up those thoughts.

Oh, and I'll go for those cars that slow you down before you get to close to the guy in front of you. Just think of all the accidents that could be stopped.


Cindy Gerard said...

Super cool post, Betina. And I love all your future ideas. I'm painfully grounded in the present and lack the imagination to come with anything 'way out there' but what I'd really LOVE to see is a nationwide transportation network where you simply arrive at a station near you, slip painlessly and quickly through security, walk into a tube and within 60 minutes you would arrive anywhere in the U.S. Did I mention I hate to fly but only because of the 2 - 3 hours tacked on to the pre and return trips. Kind of takes the 'jet' out of the jet age, if you know what I mean.

Betina Krahn said...

Actually, Michele, they already have cars that can maintain a certain distance when using cruise control. No kidding! So how much longer can it be before they find a way to implement that in other ways?

And I'm totally with you, Cindy, on the transportation thing. Oh, for the days of transporter beams! Or even high-speed trains between big cities. Why can't we have a bullet train from Atlanta to Chicago or from New York to Bradenton, Florida? :o)

I'm off to work on my "mumu" design.

Debra Dixon said...

I'm predicting "thin pills." Ones without health risks.

Lawnmowers like the Roomba but for outdoors obviously.

The eventual demise of the paper book into something handheld but exactly like a book in feel and weight but with renewable digital material.

flip said...

Skin cream that actually does remove the wrinkles and cellulite. Why I keep buying the stuff, I do not know

Helen Brenna said...

Food seems to be a recurring theme. How 'bout food we can eat, get all the sensations of flavor and texture, but none of the calories? That's gotta be coming.

And I want a transporter, more than anything. Materialize and dematerialize within minutes.

How 'bout interactive movies. You can put yourself in a movie and get to do whatever you want with your favorite actor! LOL!

Love your post, Betina. What you can come up with on the fly!!!

Diane in Syracuse said...

I think there is a little robotic lawnmower! I don't remember its name (I couldn't remember Roomba, either, glad you could, Debra), but I'm pretty sure I've seen billboards. Since I don't have a lawn to mow, I haven't looked into it much - but a quick Google produced several different brands, including one from Sears.

Does anyone remember the Trism? The B-52s' version of a transporter beam "through the atmosphere, by prism".

Kathleen Eagle said...

I'm predicting that the predictions for synthetic food will come true. Twenty years later the FDA will admit that the reason everyone's insides have become so screwed up is that the testing that resulted in FDA approval was done by scientists employed by the synthetic food industry. They will say that this unexpected turn of events is not the fault of the FDA, but in ourselves. That we are still underlings. We still have human digestive systems.

They'll comfort us by saying that the strong will survive and that, oh, by the way, Darwin was right about this evolution thing. The synthetic food industry (which is part of The Consolidated Food, Drug, Tobacco and Firearms Corporation) is working on a pill to speed up the evolution of species and expects the human body to catch up to technology in about a hundred years. By that time the weakest links will have died off. But not to worry. We now have robot laborers.

Betina Krahn said...

Thin pills, Deb! Comin' right up! I'm sure BigPharma has a keen interest in that! And skin creme for cellulite and a host of other skin/appearance problems-- Flip I'm with you.
Helen-- I'd go for the interactive movies! And the transporters. . . beam me up!
Kathy, I hope they never really get around to synthetic food. . . I'm really too partial to the old fashioned fruits and veggies. But we have to keep our eyes on them!

Thanks, guys, for sharing your predictions. Think about it some more. . . I LOVE this topic!

Matt said...

Great post/analysis.

If you're interested in retro-futurism I run a blog that explores that very topic.