Friday, December 21, 2007

Whatever happened to the future?

Well, I've been patient. I've scanned the newspapers, examined magazines, and closely questioned experts on these sorts of things.

All to no avail.

I was sold a little short during my childhood. I was, of course, an avid reader of all manner of science fiction stories, most of which forecast all sorts of technical wonders by now. Surely by the 21st Century all sorts of amazing things should have already happened?

But no...

Where the hell is my flying car? Why don't I live in a bubble shaped house, cleaned and maintained by slave robots, with automatically sun-shading windows? Why isn't everything clean and white? Why haven't pavements been replaced by moving walk ways? Why aren't there huge cities of crystal glass and stainless steel? Why aren't there any cities floating high up in the air, or indeed domed cities at the bottom of the oceans? Oh and space! Where are the space colonies? Why the hell can't we spend a week's holiday on one of the seven moon bases? Why isn't some astronaut playing golf on Mars? Why isn't there a golf course on Mars? There isn't even a newsagents out there yet, and that doesn't sound so very hard.

All we've managed to do is to mass produce the DVD player, put a couple of creaky space stations into orbit, and produce a robot dog called an 'Aibo', that can't even 'woof' convincingly.

Pah! I want my money back!

Aren't we supposed to be able to chatter to computers by now? They're supposed to say "Wittgenstein was wrong, Ric, because I can quite easily speak about things that are not in the universe", or "the meaning of life is quite simple, Ric, well it is to me anyway...", or "there's at least £10 of change down the back of the sofa", or "What're you doing, Ric? Ric? Ric, what're you doing?". The best we ever get is "Page not found". Not exactly a worthy intellectual adversary.

And what about those wonder cures we're supposed to have discovered by now? We're still getting 'flu, colds and cancer, and they've gone and added HIV, Ebola and SARS to the list. The list is getting longer, not shorter.

Progress has slowed to a crawl. Places like Liverpool have actually slipped back into the 20th Century. Poor Macclesfield never made it that far, and is all dark satanic mills, top hats and terraced houses.

And windscreen wipers should be utrasonic by now. Did you know that the bloke who invented them (I think some Czech bloke around 1920) said "they're not pretty, but they'll just have do until we think of something better". Eighty years later, and the wipers on my brand new Audi squeak marginally worse than the ones on my Dear Old Mum's old Austin Maxi.

And why do I still have to drive my car? Them robot servants should be doing all the driving, steering and avoiding accidents, while we humans sit in the back sipping flourescent green cocktails, and looking at bubble house brochures. And anti-gravity; yer car of the future can switch from road to air using its anti-gravity thingy. That's what's wrong with flying car designs thus far - they start with a car and then add wings and stuff so it can fly. Results in an inefficient bad joke. Why not start with something that can already fly perfectly well, thank you very much, and then add the car-like bits to it? There, we all need a very small Airbus each with a few simply modifications to make it road legal.

And why do we still have cloudy days? The future's always shown as being bright and sunny. Or very dark and rainy like Blade Runner. Never cloudy. Cloudy is soooo 20th century, daaaaarling. Soooo passé.

Blade Runner's supposed to be set in 2019. They've got human-like androids with emotions and everything, huge pyramid-like buildings the size of cities, off-world colonies AND flying-bloody-cars. Oh and huge zeppelin advertising boards with scary Japanese girls selling you noodles in a sloooooooooow vooooooice. Can't beat it with a stick. I hate to be pessimistic, but we're gonna have to put our skates if we're gonna achieve all that in 12 years time.

No Thunderbirds, no International Rescue, no Tracy Island. No 2001: A Space Odyssey, no Hal, no big round wheely space station, nor moon shuttles to the moon base. No moon base. No Jetsons.

We've been done a kipper.

Ok, so Thunderbird's is set in 2065, which leaves us with a little extra time to figure things out. If only we'd started gaining this sort of technology back in 1965 when the show started, we'd be on the right track by now. As always, after nearly 40 years we're barely a step closer. Need to invent really big audio speakers to play that music when the swimming pool opens up. That and some method to stop the water slopping about. Oh, and palm trees with hinges on them.

Just wonder if we arrived at the future, didn't really notice anything different, and then went clear over the top? I look around me here, and it all looks rather the same as 1996. So maybe we peaked at 2000 after all. Y2K problem did for us after all. Bloody hell, I don't like the thought of going back to VHS again. Just getting used to DVDs, the only vaguely futuristic thing we've managed to accomplish thus far.

Oh, and hologram photos, where are they? And video phones! We're supposed to talk to each other via video phones by now. Space 1999 had 'em, so we're well over due. We've got telephones that takes snapshots, which is about as logical as a microwave oven with a built-in ironing board, but no video phones. Great.

It was memories of the UFO series that triggered this line of reasoning. Remember how it was always sunny, even at night? All the girls had purple hair, of course. Some of the blokes too, except the boss who had silver hair. Or white. Always too sunny to tell, to be honest. Turbine powered cars, real space fighters, a proper moon base, and a bloody space station that looks like a space station, and not like a collection of old loo roll tubes. And no clouds. And clean, everything was all clean and nice, especially the girls. And the cars were clean too. Cars in the future don't get dirty, so why's mine covered in dirt and bird crap? Because there're no robot servants to clean it, that's why. Ray guns! Where the bloody hell are the ray guns? We're still using bullets, mate. Might as well be using bows and arrows, pikes and maces.

And I've never heard of anyone in the future playing football. Rollerball, Death Race 2000, even some sort of flying basket ball in Judge Dredd, but never footy. I'm beginning to suspect the future didn't happen after all. Maybe we got the dates wrong and it's actually the 1970s. Could explain the fashions of today. And the music. That daft Pope Gregory sod made a mistake working out his new calendar. Probably should have added four months every leap year, rather than this measly February 29th nonsense. Yeah, a sixteen month leap year. Lemme see, we've had the Greg calendar for about 400 years, so we're about 400 months behind, which works out about 33 years.

Explains a lot: it's only 1974.

Hmm, I don't deny there's been some incremental progress here and there, but nothing really dramatically futuristic has happened. The DVD is just a replacement for the VHS/Betamax, and the Internet's just a hop skip and jump away from the telephone network. Nah, I'm missing the BIG changes. Still, at least we've been spared the widely forecast nuclear holocaust (touch wood), so we don't have to live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland of sand, glass, and daft sods driving lashed together bits of cars fighting with even dafter sods on motorbikes.

Why don't door swish open and shut automatically yet? That can't be so hard to do. The ones on Star Trek do, but I guess that's the year 2400 or somesuch. Seem to remember that the ones on UFO also swished open on their own, but with a different sound. Maybe a 'hum... plop'? Dunno. Anyways, 21st Century doors shouldn't have locks and hinges and handles and stuff. Nor should they be made of wood. They should be alloy and swish. And be painted white like all futuristic things.

A word of warning to the wise: don't just walk up to a white door and expect it to swish open. Most of 'em are duds. You'll get a flat nose.

And nuclear fusion's been 'just around the corner' since the 1950s. A bloody fortune's been spent on fusion for decade after decade. Result to date? It was only after 40 years of trying that they got more electricity out of a fusion reactor than they had to put into it in the first place. About 2% more. That, and the time-frame of 'just around the corner' has increased from 5 years to 25 years. Bloody big corners in fusion research.

Meanwhile we're still up to our necks in coal-powered stations. And the fission nuke stations are being switched off. It'll soon be back to steam engines, paddle wheels, and horses. And top hats and flat caps, typhoid and cholera. Don't get me started on global warming; imagine how bad it'll get if we go backwards through the industrial revolution again?

Seen the film Groundhog Day? Well, I propose that we do something similar; we deduct 50 years from the today's date, and try again; only harder this time. Have a good run at it, you see. A bit like that old teacher making us go back up the corridor and 'walk properly'. Every time we reach 2,000 AD and there're still no flying cars, white bubble houses, robot whores, endlessly sunny days, video phones, and especially moon bases with hotels and somewhere to park your personal spaceship, then 50 years gets deducted from the date again. Oh and sonic screw-drivers. It'll give everyone an incentive: Clement Attlee, the arms race, the Richard Nixon. Kajagoogoo, Bucks Fizz, and Grease. The Dukes of Hazzard. Russ Abbott! Scratched LPs, 8-track cassette players and black and white telly. Yes, it hurts, doesn't it; but then it's supposed to. It's an incentive for the world to finally get its act together and reach the future, as promised.

Great idea, even if I say so myself.

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