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This is my entry this week for therealljidol. I invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries. This week we are writing about six topics. This is in response to "Nostalgic."





Remember in 1991 when intelligent apes took over the planet? And the nuclear fallout that caused our ape overlords to become more and more intelligent while we grew more docile? You don't remember that?

Perhaps you remember in 1992 when scientists developed an artificially intelligent computer named HAL, or in 1999 and 2001 when alien monoliths were discovered on the moon and Jupiter? You don't recall?

Surely you must remember in 2006, when an alien ship crashed in London, and 10 Downing Street, the home of the British prime minister, was destroyed? Doesn't ring a bell?

No doubt you're too busy to think about such ancient history, given the wealth of technological wonders currently available to us, from undersea elevators and gravity tubes, to bartending robots, to USB/WiFi flashdrives for our brains. Why are you giving me a funny look?

Since science fiction began with Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" in 1726, writers have created futuristic worlds of imaginary but plausible settings. They have explored the possibilities and consequences of science and technology, space travel, aliens and paranormal abilities, always beginning with the phrase "What if?"

For many of those writers, the far-flung year 2000 seemed incredibly remote and therefore a ripe staging ground for dramatically different worlds. It must have been all those zeroes. And yet, as many of us lament, it is 2012 already, and we have no jet packs or flying cars.

We may not have those things, but the truth is that current technology does render them feasible. In fact, working jet packs are currently for sale by a Mexican start-up that also offers flying lessons. But at $250,000 US each, they are a long way from being universally adopted. Similarly, prototypes for flying cars are under development, but unlikely to become widely available for decades, at least. For practical reasons, these inventions will probably remain playthings for the wealthy and privileged, because of the imposing logistics involved in keeping thousands (or millions) of flying vehicles from crashing into each other!

Of course, the only reason anyone is developing jet packs and flying cars in the first place is because they are part of the futuristic world we've read about, courtesy of science fiction. Why did those authors posit such flying devices to begin with? For that answer, you need to look at the past.

Like any literary genre, science fiction at heart is an exploration of the human condition. SF writers create imaginary worlds and technology to cope with basic human concerns and conundrums. Wouldn't it be nice, they ask, if human beings didn't have to worry about physical ailments? In response, they posited a treasure trove of miraculous medical devices, from Uniflesh (flesh for every occasion) to hand-held germ detectors. If some medical solutions depicted now exist -- such as face transplants -- it is because scientists and doctors also imagine a world where the effects of disease and physical ailments can be minimized.

It is amusing to look at SF versions of our current time period and see how many things writers got wrong. In some cases, it was because they wrongly assessed our priorities. Why develop a food pill (which would strip all enjoyment out of obtaining nutrition) when cancer hadn't yet been cured? Why develop something as expensive and nonproductive as fully-functioning virtual reality when you could spend a lot less (and make more) developing new ways to communicate with real people?

Even though our world might not resemble the world that writers like Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke imagined, it's still far more technologically advanced than the world of the early 1900s. My grandmother passed away in the late '80s, so she never got to make a cell-phone call or use a hands-free faucet, but in her 88 years she witnessed the birth of radio, then television, of desktop computers and grocery-store checkout scanners. She grew up using a gas oven but in her later years cooked meals with microwaves. I'm sure it all seemed near miraculous to a women who bragged about how she'd predicted television in a high-school essay and received a poor grade from a teacher with no imagination.

It tickles me to think what Grandma Heritage would make of our current technology. We don't have laser pens yet, Grandma, but we can video chat with friends and family all over the globe. We may not have robot butlers, but we can type nearly anything into our computers and purchase it with electronic money, to have it brought directly to our door.

Who knows? Maybe we will one day have flying cars. (Though I do hope we manage to avoid an ape uprising.) Regardless of what the future brings, we will continue to build on the dreams of the past. I firmly believe that some of the best inventions are yet to come.



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Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
roina_arwen
Jul. 30th, 2012 01:52 pm (UTC)
I love this! This is the genre of your writing that I enjoy the most. It makes me think of the commercial that is set (I think) in the 1970's: "In the future, we will communicate with our thumbs!"
alycewilson
Jul. 30th, 2012 04:18 pm (UTC)
Yay! Glad you like it! The visionaries always get it a little wrong, don't they? I've been amusing myself lately, explaining to my son that "in my day, you actually had to turn a faucet on" and them joking with my husband that some day we'll say "in my day, you had to actually type your messages. There were no thought phones."
pixiebelle
Jul. 30th, 2012 07:00 pm (UTC)
I love reading books that talk about what our future should look like today. It's fun to see how different things really are. Yet you're right... We have come very far technologically in such a short time. I often wonder what Da Vinci would think of the planes of today. Or what my dad would think about the brilliant HD movies we have today (he died in the 80s).
alycewilson
Aug. 9th, 2012 12:09 am (UTC)
Being a guy, he would probably be amazed and want the biggest flatscreen he could get. :)

I used to think it would be neat to start a tourist attraction which focused on the "history of the future," where you collected artifacts that had to do with past ideas of what the future would be like. Maybe I'll still do it someday, if I find the financing and the time!
whipchick
Jul. 31st, 2012 04:48 pm (UTC)
I love the idea that Laura Ingalls Wilder traveled in a covered wagon and witnessed the first space flight. So awesome :)
alycewilson
Aug. 9th, 2012 12:10 am (UTC)
That would be amazing, wouldn't it?
myrna_bird
Jul. 31st, 2012 07:49 pm (UTC)
Really enjoyed this.Imagination is such a gift. I'll bet you're right that the future will yield even more!
alycewilson
Aug. 9th, 2012 12:11 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm going to start making a list of all the stuff that will be outdated by the time my son is old enough to understand. That way I can be a proper old fogey when I started with the "in my day" monologues.
notodette
Aug. 8th, 2012 02:57 am (UTC)
Neat tie-in to science fiction, here!
alycewilson
Aug. 9th, 2012 12:12 am (UTC)
Thanks! Glad you liked it. The first line comes from an in-joke between my brother and I. We were watching a "Planet of the Apes" marathon and started saying to each other, "Remember the ape uprising? That sucked!"
n3m3sis42
Aug. 8th, 2012 02:04 pm (UTC)
We don't have laser pens but I do own a "smartpen" that records what you write using special matrix paper. So yeah? That's kinda cool. :)
alycewilson
Aug. 9th, 2012 12:13 am (UTC)
And then what happens? Can you print it out?

With my luck, it couldn't read my handwriting.
(Deleted comment)
alycewilson
Aug. 15th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
Thanks. Most SF writers will tell you, though, they're not really writing about aliens. They're writing about us.
i_smell_apples
Aug. 14th, 2012 03:40 am (UTC)
One of my favourite childhood TV shows was set in the future (the years 2500 and 3000) and one of their history lessons mentioned how African Elephants became extinct in 2076... I am still oddly determined to still be alive then just to see if that was actually a prophecy.

3 more years until we should have hoverboards!
alycewilson
Aug. 15th, 2012 01:56 am (UTC)
Do you remember what it was? That show sounds like fun.

Oh, no, KFP will be riding a hoverboard with his pockets turned inside-out!
i_smell_apples
Aug. 15th, 2012 02:01 am (UTC)
It's called The Girl From Tomorrow, and the sequel was Tomorrow's End and I am still a little obsessed ;) The "present day" setting was 1990 so it's absolutely hilarious to rewatch now and think, oh my goodness how did I ever think she was so cool?!

And wearing those fancy self-doing-up sneakers :D
alycewilson
Aug. 15th, 2012 02:19 am (UTC)
Those sneakers would be a godsend. I'm so tired of dealing with Velcro, and he's only 2!

Unfortunately, that show doesn't seem to be available on Blockbuster.com, so I'll have to wait to see it until I can find it elsewhere. You wouldn't know of anywhere I can find it online, would you?
i_smell_apples
Aug. 31st, 2012 05:21 am (UTC)
Oops, the things I find when I finally go through my inbox..!

It actually seems to all be on youtube, full episodes! o.O Last time I checked I could only find the first two, in six parts each. Jackpot!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4waQKy64b8U http://www.youtube.com/user/34powerman :D
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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