The Future is History

How often has not some great mind flung an aphorism our way stating that "there is nothing greater or more beautiful about the human race than its imagination"? Indeed, man's ability to fantasize, extrapolate, prophesize and predict is without limit.
And that really, really sucks. It really spoils everything.

Imagine someone living around the beginning of the 20th century. Imagine their rapture at all the new and amazing fantasy that was becoming a reality before their very eyes. Your own vehicle, without the need of a horse –driving down the street! Humanity's dream of taking to the skies –realized! Moving pictures of real people! It was no wonder that there were some who saw no limits to what could be achieved. And this is where the trouble started. We got science fiction writers. Starting with Jules Verne, these people presented us with almost every conceivable view of the future (including a few bleak ones).
It wasn't until the 1960s that people began to realize that sure, they can put a man on the moon, but things have slowed down a bit, haven't they? The generations after that were more wary of technological progress and more cynical about its practical application (nuclear weapons spring to mind).
And then, just when people thought that at best, technology was a heartless, cruel dictator, around came home computers and, most notably, the internet. Suddenly technology, our old dream, had reappeared, again achieving things we never thought possible. The desire to be able to communicate with your friends and loved ones from wherever you are –realized! The wish for a virtually limitless repository of knowledge, at your fingertips 24 hours a day –fulfilled!
As then, our day and age also has dreamers, but they are not just writers; they are also scientists and businessmen. The wonders in store for us are even more amazing and actually come with assurance by professional. Many actually see genetic engineering, nanotechnology, interstellar travel and artificial intelligence becoming a reality.
The first problem is, we already know it's going to happen. There will be no major technological breakthrough for eons to come that will really surprise us. Secondly,
these amazing revolutions aren't happening. And they probably won't, at least not within our lifetime. I mean, let's face it. Who are we trying to kid here? What are the most important developments these days? Well, on internet, weblogs are (still) the craze. (Technologically, weblogs could have been realized several decades ago.) And as for mobile phones, the newest generation can now send, receive and display pictures. (You know, like that time when those computers turned from text-only to text-with-crappy-graphics, back in the 1980s.)
The way I see it, people are so used to seeing yet another technological revolution, and their expectations for the next one have been raised so high, that nothing but dismal disappointment can follow. Think about it. Do you really expect there to be any even remotely surprising development happening in the rest of your life span? Even if some of these dreams do come true, they won't be much of a surprise, will they?
Let's finish with Bill Watterson's 6-year-old philosopher Calvin, who said it best when he said, reflecting on a new decade: "Where are the flying cars? Where are the moon colonies? Where are the personal robots and the zero gravity boots, huh? You call this a new decade?! You call this the future?? HA! Where are the rocket packs? Where are the disintegration rays? Where are the floating cities? I mean, look at this! We still have weather?! Give me a break!"

Posted by cronopio at 01:04 AM, January 10, 2003