Saturday, September 22, 2007

Libertarian Paleo-Future

Reason magazine has a very interesting article by Katherine Mangu-Ward about the paleo-future. The piece can be found in the October, 2007 issue and an excerpt appears below.
If this is the future, someone forgot to stock it properly. Where are the personal service robots, the moon vacations, the self-contained cities rising out of the smog? What happened to all those sci-fi prophecies? In Where’s My Jetpack? (Bloomsbury), Popular Mechanics columnist Daniel Wilson moans that “it’s the twenty-first century, and things are a little disappointing.” Wilson, the author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising, begs “all the scientists, inventors, and tinkerers out there” to “please hurry up” (emphasis in original).

Wilson shouldn’t be so moony. Fanciful futurist visions can obscure all the neat stuff we’ve accumulated, once-wild innovations that are far cooler and more functional than jetpacks. (Microwave ovens, anyone?) They also make it easy to forget that the ultimate responsibility for choosing which technologies fill our lives lies with us, the ordinary consumers, more than any rocket scientists. Take the titular jetpack. It exists—but no one really wants it. It’s a 125-pound monster with a flight time of 30 seconds, powered by expensive fuel. The dream of individual human flight was realized in 1961, and we haven’t been able to find any use for it outside of Bond movies, the first Super Bowl halftime show, and Ovaltine commercials.

See also:
Where's My Jetpack? (2007)
The Jetsons Car We've Been Waiting For?
Yet Another Flying Car Company


Mark Plus said...

The libertarians' paleo-futures have their own problems. For example, libertarian schemes from the 1970's for private security and military companies don't look so appealing when they turn into the 21st Century's Blackwater.

John Reha said...

Warren Ellis (novelist, futurist, and noted comic writer) is actually doing a very intriguing graphic series based on this kind of thinking called Doktor Sleepless. It might be worth a look for Paleo-Future.

Mark Plus said...

I'd like read up on Ellis's work. Paleo-future science fiction looks like an underserved market niche. Just go back to what people either knew, thought they knew or believed circa 1960 (including their now-risible misconceptions), and use that as material for science fiction set in alternative versions of the early 21st Century. Arthur C. Clarke's original edition of Profiles of the Future (1962), for example, provides a lot of material. I re-read a later edition of that book recently, and I noticed how weak many of Clarke's arguments sound now. His emphasis on the centrality of astronautics in the future has really dated badly.

Anonymous said...

"The dream of individual human flight was realized in 1961"

Doesn't really follow from

"It’s a 125-pound monster with a flight time of 30 seconds, powered by expensive fuel."

(For one thing, most people's dreams of individual flight usually involve over 30 seconds flying time)

Probably closer to such dreams was the little one-man blimp Alberto Santos-Dumond occasionally flew around Paris and on a couple occasions tied up outside his club...