Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Article for MungBeing

I wrote an article for the online magazine MungBeing which appears in the new issue. An excerpt appears below. You can read the entire article here.

There is a genuine sense of sadness detectable when you talk with people about flying cars and meal pills. Oddly enough, most people don't want meals-in-a-pill, they simply want the fanciful. We long for the world where anything is possible. We exist in a rather unique age when most American's basic necessities are met. You and I have luxuries unseen in human history and yet we want more.

See also:
Postmodern Paleo-Future


faoladh said...

the sorrow about the future is especially interesting, to me, because we have some of those things. food pills exist. flying cars don't, exactly, but there is a prototype (though it doesn't seem to work all that well). but still, air travel has gotten amazingly inexpensive, relative to incomes.

so what is it that is really missing? i suspect, as you say, it's the sense of wonder, of expanded possibilities. when it came down to it in reality, we found out that the infinite energy had an infinite cost; the robots worked better in the controlled environment of the showroom and not so well in the field; the flying cars crash. it was easier to love these things unreservedly when their limits weren't yet known.

of course, some of those future promises are still promising. look at the robot research in Japan, or the M400 (which might be improved yet). fusion power probably won't have the centuries-long hazards implicit to fission power. there are still possibilities, if we can just get over our disappointments that the previous ones didn't live up fully to their promise.

Anonymous said...

Apart from the word "american" (sci-fi should move beyond national boundaries), I agree with your statement.

We, as a people (of this planet), want more in our lives all the time. It doesn't matter that many of the things we dreamed about already exist. What matters is whether they are accessible to us at a fair price.

At the same time, the power of imagination is that it pushes us forward. It influences us as children to pursue careers that make our dreams a reality. Of course, as we grow up, the world may not as we imagined, but there should still be this spark inside of us, pushing us to move forward.

This spark, the dream, whatever, is in my opinion, just as much a vital ingredient of life, as oxygen or water. It doesn't really matter that it's not like we imagined, it never can be. What matters is that we imagined it in the first place.

Mark Plus said...

The 21st Century really disappoints me so far because we've had to relinquish manned space travel (compared with the projects for space colonization promoted by the L-5 Society I belonged to in the late 1970's and early 1980's), and we still don't have the radical life extension predicted by "futurists" in the 1970's for right about now.

Instead we face the prospect of Peak Oil and a collapse of complex industrial civilizations. The reports of the new, lavish American embassy in Baghdad remind me of the old science fiction movies and novels which had the ruling elites of the future living comfortably in heavily fortified paradises, while the disenfranchised and impoverished hordes have to live like animals on the outside. Well, that version of the future has stared to come true.

Unknown said...

I've been interested for a while in these things that seem to be perennial future-signifiers--flying cars, videophones, holographic TV, laser pistols. Many of them seem to be so useful for this purpose precisely because they are unlikely near-future innovations--they always stay safely in the future so they're always a convenient indicator of the future.

Lamenting that you don't have them is almost missing the point--or, rather, it says something different from what's on the surface. As you said, people don't want food pills at all, they want a world of fanciful surprises. But if we had all these things they wouldn't be fanciful surprises to us.

(Though I guess I'm going to have to strike the videophone from this list. Bell's 1960s videophones didn't sell, but practical videophones do seem to be slowly, slowly coming about, thanks to cheap webcams and the Internet. People just don't use them unless they have a reason to. When wi-fi-capable mobile phones with enough horsepower to stream live video are common, video calls will probably explode.)