Friday, January 04, 2008

The Future Ain't What It Used to Be

This article asks the question, Is sci-fi out of ideas? The author is referring specifically to movies and TV. His point is that nearly everything we are seeing is a retread of old ideas. With Star Trek being jump-started again and comic-book movies being mainly based on heroes created in the 1940s-1960s, he has a point but it is reflected in society as a whole.

My grandfather was born before airplanes. They were still flying bi-planes when my parents were born. I was born before Sputnik. For all of us, the world was changing at a fantastic rate. Technologies were invented then went out of date quickly. My parents grew up in the age of radio. TV was still black and white when I was a child. The switch to color TV in the 1960s and cable in the 1970s was a huge leap. VCR tape recorders were introduced in the 1970s and became ubiquitous in the 1980s.

Look at a similar period over the last few years. The switch from VCR to DVD meant better resolution and smaller storage space but it is nothing like the previous changes. I now have around 150 cable channels but there is less on that I want to see so the change isn't very pronounced there.

Cars have a lot of luxuries standard and several safety features that they didn't used to have but my 20-year-old van is still quite usable. You couldn't say the same thing in the 1960s about a 1940s vehicle. Jets have been standard since the 1960s. It doesn't matter much the size or shape of the cabin.

I remember my father saying that space travel had seemed impossible when he was growing up. Even so, he didn't think that we would actually make it to the moon. He was wrong about that but I doubt that I will see us land on Mars. Just getting back to the moon seems beyond us.

With so little change happening before our eyes we have stopped imagining how things will be different in the future. Space exploration now is mainly supply and repair missions in shuttles that were designed 30 years ago. No wonder we fall back on a vision of space travel crafted when each space mission broke new records.

Even the Internet isn't new any longer. Some people (like me) were doing things on-line in the 1980s through services like CompuServe and AOL. The Internet became well-known in 1993 (as the Information Superhighway). Web pages and browsers have been common for more than a decade. Not much inspiration there. Virtual worlds were beaten to death with The Matrix and even that was years ago.

Biology - genetic engineering, cloning, transplants - has become too common-place to inspire any wonder.

Not that progress has stopped but right now I don't see the big jumps that I saw growing up. Its the big jumps that inspire the best science fiction.

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