On Our Way to The Future

My younger son came to me and told me he wanted to write an article about how much the internet had improved life.  Before he explained what he meant, I formed a picture in my mind.  It wasn’t what he meant.  His article, if he writes it, I shall submit to one of the more political sites.  This article is the one that formed in my mind, and it touches on things that I have mentioned in passing in other blogs, but which – frankly – deserve a mention of their own.

When I was little – and when you were little, probably too, if you’re any older than thirty and perhaps if you’re any older than twenty – when I dreamed of the future it had a Jetsonish tinge.  Not that I ever thought the Jetsons were really science fiction – as with most TV science fiction none of us who read the stuff took it seriously, we just “liked” it because it at least introduced some of the ideas to “normal” people.  (Unfortunately it introduced some very odd ideas too.  One had to go around explaining to everyone that no, this stuff we read was not about discovering strange new worlds and seducing the aliens in them.  Oh and that, almost certainly, there would be more to aliens than a different forehead.)

On the other hand, and even though in a way we knew it wouldn’t be true (at least by my childhood it was obvious things weren’t moving in that direction where I lived.  I wasn’t sure about America.  I mean, everyone knows the future comes from America and maybe in America they had all this stuff) we tended to dream of flying cars, housekeeping robots, three hour work days and machines that did almost anything.

I suppose if my personal addiction had been to romances and I’d imagined true love coming the way I imagined the future coming, I wouldn’t have known it when I fell in love – or I would have found it very hard to navigate a relationship that would be different from the dream of love in books.  Fortunately I read stuff like Simak, who portrayed love in a rather realistic way.

But it meant I didn’t recognize the future when it came.  And I’m not alone in that.  In tons of panels, and even the man on the street, you find kind of a disconsolate, drippy grief that we don’t have flying cars, we don’t have trips to Mars, we don’t have any of that.  We’re in fact – we say – living in the twenty first century as though it were the twentieth.

Don’t get me wrong, I want all that and the tourism to the moon.  With extra robot-served ice cream at that.

But even before my kid came to me, I’d been thinking back at the things we do have, and how fast they’ve spread.  It is only that they spread in such an insidious way, in little, non-flashy things that allows us to say that we live just as people did in the twentieth century.

Take cell phones, possibly the only thing that was – more or less.  People tended to go more for the video phone. – anticipated.  Just a little thing, right?  Now you can take a phone with you wherever you go.  Big whoop.  And inconvenient to boot.  I mean, your boss can find you everywhere.

Only go read any of the mid twentieth century mysteries and you’ll understand how much our life has changed in the what – fifteen? – years since cell phones have been pocket-sized, affordable and reach everywhere in the nation.  Most of those mysteries would never work now.  Girl alone and car breaks down?  No problem.  Dial triple A.  Stumbled on a body?  Don’t spend hours walking around in circles looking for someone to report it to and make yourself the primary suspect.  Get that cell phone out of your pocket, you ninny and call the police already.

Other things make that last scenario of finding a body then spending hours walking or driving, looking for the law, even more unlikely.  What are you doing in an unknown area without a GPS?  Okay, so maybe you’re a hiker, but even most hiking trails are on GPS these days.

Then add in the internet.

When we first moved to the Denver area, when we took the kids to Denver for a weekend, we had a routine which we had used whenever we went to a new city.  First, get a map.  Then go to the phone book and look up stuff you want to do.  Museums.  Amusement parks.  Restaurants.  Map out the route.  Then you can go.  And of course you might get there and find the place is closed or that something that was called La Haute Cuisine is ironically named.

This got a little better by the end of the nineties for restaurants and most of the museums there were places you could call on your cell phone that would give you reviews right there by phone, and often directions too.

But even to people like us who always buy older technology (cheaper) it is much easier now.  While we use an el-cheapo cell phone that is so not smart it probably never passed elementary school, we always take at least one computer (or at least the tablet) on vacation.  And before we go I google those days in that place, to see if there are any festivals, museum free days or other special events we don’t want to miss.  I also do broad searches for the sort of place we like – like Greek diners.  Usually we have stuff mapped out before we leave the house, but if things fall through, we have a laptop to look up more, and a GPS to take us there.

Simple stuff?  Oh, sure.  But it also means when a genuine emergency happens, like when Robert was having an asymptomatic ear infection that went explosively symptomatic while we were in Denver, we wouldn’t have to drive around in circles and call the very few people we then knew trying to find an emergicare to take him to while he was in pain.  (Of course, now we know Denver as well as our neighborhood, but imagine any strange town.)

But again, the “convenience” of this dwarves the other changes the internet has brought about.

Guys, I spent two years not sending anything out because what I wrote was novels, they were too expensive to mail and I simply didn’t have the money.  To an extent, this influenced my decision to learn to write short stories, which are not natural to me, because I could that way maximize my investment in postage by maybe getting a story in front of someone who would read it.

Forget Indie exists for a while – hard to, right, and yet it’s newer than tomorrow – if I were now where I was twenty years ago, I could sent those novels electronic to at least three houses and most agents.  And given how fast I could write, I could keep sending them.

While on how fast I could/can write.  I don’t think any of you whippersnappers have any idea how isolated writers – and other odd people – were in the bad old days.  I do.  Being a writer was, by nature, an alienating thing.  People would be very puzzled by what you did.  The standard questions – still heard, no longer as resented – if you were a woman were always “do you write children’s books”?  And by that they meant picture books, or “Do you write romance?”  I wasn’t so lucky.  Nine times out of ten the first question of anyone so privileged as to have heard my accent was to go “What language do you write in?”

This might seem like I’m being picky and in a way I am, of course, but here’s the thing: it made you feel AWFULLY alone.  I remember how happy I was when I moved to Colorado and found out that there was a writers conference downtown and also the experience of attending that very first conference and being among other writers.  The first writers’ group I joined not only had people of different genres, but had fiction and non fiction writers thrown together, as if that were really helpful.  We, sf strangers, got weird comments on our stuff such as the immortal “Are you sure this is science fiction?  It’s not a thing like Star Trek.”

Just being able to get online and access friends, acquaintances and sometimes total strangers who also write, and ask how to do something, or how something works, or just being able to joke with friends.

Oh, it’s nothing, you’ll say, and besides it’s a distraction.  Sure.  Of course it is.  But I’ve always been the sort of person who has friends halfway across the world.  Being able to call them was something that happened once a month if that and cost a fortune.  Right now, my best writing buddies are halfway across the country or halfway across the world, and yet we can contact each other several times a day and if I write something I’m not sure of I can run it by them in seconds.  (Okay a little more for long stuff, since they have lives.)

I’ve also found that I can dispense with half of the “just in case” books.  You know the “just in cases” – a walking map of NYC; a guide to automobiles in the mid twentieth century; books on how to treat various odd ailments; books on the native plants and animals of various lands.  Half the books I picked up at library sales were “just in case I need to.”  Most never got used, of course.  Now?  Well, if I need it there’s a net for that.

And that’s just in writing, and I haven’t exhausted all improvements and everything that’s easier – I just want to move on to the rest of life.

Do you know how much I would have given, when I had small kids and couldn’t leave the house whenever I wanted to, to be able to get on the net and in seconds – not the half an hour or so it took to deal with catalogues and all – order stuff I needed which would be at my door in two days?  Yeah, I think I bought books from Amazon on the day it opened up for business, but I couldn’t order a mop, then, or bread, or…

Do you know how much I would have given when I was broke and depressed for the chance to read free books?  I did have them, sort of – the rejects in front of the local used bookstore – but they were mostly gothic romances or very, very odd college text books.
Just that takes the sting off what I found the worst of poverty.

And then there’s videos – which I grant you I get through Prime Amazon Membership, but even that it’s not very expensive when you consider.  I don’t watch TV very often and movies less than that, but if I want to they’re there.  What’s more, they’re there not in whatever is available in my area, but in whatever I WANT at that moment.  Do I want to watch a mystery?  There’s a mystery series.  Period drama? It’s there.  SF?  It’s there.  It’s like having a near infinite video library in your living room.  And if you are willing to pay, the library is very close to infinite.

These things seem small but they’re not – they’re creating a more connected, more informed and yes, more diverse world – diverse in the way that counts, where your news and entertainment aren’t being channeled through some gatekeeper’s preferences.

And we’re not using the half of it.  People who scream we need to move closer to our places of employment, or use trains to save gas are living in the early twentieth century.  First of all – please, read up – the new tech has revealed new deposits of obtainable oil, so that Colorado and Israel can rival Saudi Arabia as oil producers.  Second – why on Earth do most people have to go in to work, other than outmoded habit.  Most people in white collar jobs can easily work remote from home.  They can work from anywhere in the world.

No, of course this isn’t happening.  There is resistence to it, a suspicion that people won’t self-motivate or… something.  But then the same thing was true of ebooks for years, till the barrier broke.  By the time it broke, most people assumed it wouldn’t.  And if people were really serious about saving gas or cutting emissions or whatever that IS what they’d be pushing: telecommuting.  You known none of these politicians care about what they say they are trying to save, because if they did they would be cutting down on regulations against working from home and giving companies incentives to have a remote workforce.  Instead, they’re building trains and tightening regulations – which I grant you has better opportunity for graft.

In the same way as ebooks, I suspect when the barrier against working from home falls down it will move with catastrophic speed.  It will be a good thing and very fast.  The very fast will make life interesting.  No?  Well, where you live right now is predicated by where jobs are.  This in turn supports local infrastructure, house prices, etc.  Now imagine you can life in Podunk and work in NYC.  Think what that will do to house values, salaries, social life and the price of drapes.  Yeah – when that hits it will make what’s happening to publishing and will soon happen to education look like a storm in a teacup.

The future is now and, by and large, the future is better than the past.  But to take advantage of it we need to open our eyes and move past things like screaming about how we need more public transportation.  We need to stop applying old solutions to new problems.  In the seventies it seemed to me tons of people were nostalgic for the thirties.  The same people seem to still be nostalgic for the thirties, now with a tinge of the seventies.

But the way forward is forward, not towards some imagined misty-rosy past that never existed.

The future is now.  It’s time to grow up and enjoy it.

207 responses to “On Our Way to The Future

  1. I also do broad searches for the sort of place we like – like Greek diners.

    One should never be more than ten minutes away from a good gyro place.

    • THAT is civilization.

      • One of the most shocking examples of multiculturalism that I’ve ever been a party to was seeing a Filipino guy selling gryos off a cart in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The real deal, too, not a bastardized version of a gryo.

      • Let me correct that. It’s not multiculturalism, it’s successful international commerce, delivering the goods and services people want in the most efficient manner. If it were multiculturalism, it would be Filipino force-feeding bystanders Filipino food in an elementary school in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and then they would have to sit in a circle holding hands and celebrate their differences.

    • I would love to be 10 minutes from a good gyro place but, I refuse to live in Europe again

      • Bah. I can think of three mom & pop-type places right here in St Louis. I always try to find the safety certificate in a new restaurant like that because I want to see if the proprietor’s name ends in something like “opodopolis”. If so, I’m likely to be happy with their fare.

        • we have two in Colorado Springs — three but one is more of a bar. Alas my favorite is in Denver, though.

          • The gyro “kit” that I’ve found in grocery stores just doesn’t cut the mustard, so to speak. I’ve never been able to do a decent one at home.

            • Cooks has a article on gyro at home in the current Fall Entertaining issue. Conclusion, not really possible, as it requires specialized equipment. They do provide a recipe for a lamb kofta pita sandwich for home preparation.

        • None where I am … maybe Reno… I haven’t looked. There was a nice gyro place in SLC in the 1980s. It might be gone now though.

          • BTW in Germany on one of the bases near Kaiserslautern, there was a real gyro place. The guys cut the gyro meat off right there it was yummy. Plus on the other base there was a real British Fish and Chips shop. I miss Fish and Chips. They don’t make them in the US. Either the fish is pressed yuck, or the chips are fries yuck.

            • I should mention that in one of the commissaries was a real Italian running a pasta shop. I mean pasta never tasted so good. I am so spoiled. Food in the US is over-salted imho.

            • The topic of gyros came up on another forum a few months ago, and I had to ask what they were, I have never seen them so apparantly they aren’t real popular in the northwest. On the other hand the one thing I really miss from the coast of Washington is the seafood. Besides the stuff I used to catch and fix myself I used to go to a restaurant in Forks all the time (often enough I was welcomed in the kitchen and often helped out in exchange for dinner) much of the seafood served there came in through the backdoor only minutes, or at most a couple hours out of the water, was cleaned in the sink, and tossed in the grill or in the fryer. Seafood is just not the same after it has been frozen.

              Shark meat or cod is what most fish and chips is made of and it is fairly good, but the best is made from halibut. Sturgeon is the very best, but I have never seen it offered in a restuarant.

              • Most people in other countries cannot make real Mexican or Tex-mex food so unless you really missed it, it was not good to go to those places. The best curry I ever tasted (and I had some from Indian shops in South Africa) was a small place outside of Misawa Air Base in Japan. They were all Japanese cooks. It was funny I found that I liked Chinese food in Japan better than Japanese food.

                • The best Chinese restaurants around here have Mexican cooks in the back.

                  • Oh snort – so does it just have a taste of soy sauce mixed with Mexican spices? or is it any good?

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      I see below how you misread the above, but this seems more appropriate to this comment – Another blogger I read spent a couple of years in the UK, and was going crazy because of what passed for “Mexican” food there (and she’s from Texas).

                    • Oh dear! That long ago week in London, by Thursday I was so ready to kill for a cold coke that I stopped in at a McDonalds. NOT EVEN THERE! What kind of barbarians have tastebuds so corrupted they can drink coca-cola at room temperature!!!!!!!!!

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Well… me. But that’s because I had super-sensitive teeth when I was young. The only thing I drank that cold was milkshakes, and that was because they were thick enough I could protect my teeth with my tongue. So now, I still drink most things at nearly room temperature, though I do like them about 15 degrees cooler than that.

                    • Same thing only I swear my teeth get more sensitive with age.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      If I still had real teeth, they probably would be, too. I swear, getting false teeth was probably one of the greatest things that I ever did.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Even if I DID wake up while the oral surgeon was removing my bottom from teeth while he was twisting so hard my head was bent down and sideways.

                    • Wayne, read what you typed. If he was removing your bottom from teeth, yeah, yeah, your head would be bent down and sideways. (RUNS)

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      That nearly made me choke on my granola bar. (wipes tears from eyes) Oh, my. Like I said before, typos can be some of the funniest (and punniest).

                    • Me. Someday you should ask Dan to tell you the story of the cold pineapple juice he ordered in Portugal. (Took an hour to fine, and was covered in dust.)

                    • At room temp you can taste the flavor. If you can taste the flavor, how can you stand to drink it?

                    • I LIKE the flavor — perhaps because I was told at an early age only a dirty capitalist could like coke.

                      BTW one of the “rumors” — which are as rife an crazy as in the Arab world — in the seventies was that coke was just bottled American ditch water. It backfired into “America — where their ditch water is tasty! What a COUNTRY.”

                    • You rebut me with a Yakov Smirnoff tag line??? My hat it is tipped to you. Well played.

                    • And if you heard my accent saying it, it would be even funnier. 🙂

                    • Simple answer: Rum.

                    • Things go better with rum.

                    • In Miami you can find Cuban/Chinese fusion. I have never been there or tired it, but I hear it is good.

                    • I had a co-worker whose family was from Poland and he went back for a visit. One night they went to a Mexican restaurant and they were all warning him, “The food here is REALLY SPICY. No, really. IT’S HOT!”

                      He would tell this story very dramatically, pause, and then say, “It was Taco Bell.” Not literally, but he said it tasted just like it.

                    • Had a similar experience when visiting the home of a friend from boarding school. They served an ‘exotic’ dinner that included packaged egg rolls with the little plastic squeeze containers of ‘Chinese style mustard’. They carefully warned me about how hot it was. Me, I grew up with in a city with a Chinatown and loved the sinus clearing stuff. That packet stuff didn’t even rate the deli-brown mustard to which I was accustomed, but I politely kept my mouth shut.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Then there’s the story my brother told, about the Korean neighbor he used to have. He said this guy would sit with a jar of pickled jalapenos and eat them like popcorn while watching TV.

                      Then he went to visit his family in Korea over Christmas one year. After he got back, he told my brother, “MAN! You really forget how hot the home cooking is when you’ve been gone for a while!”

                  • Oops I was thinking the other direction… sometimes the Mexican cooks are good… but most people have not traveled as extensively as my family. So I get really picky.

                  • I have things I miss (food), but I didn’t miss Tex-mex. However I had a couple of friends going crazy too. Most of the cooks in these specialty places in Germany were imported Chinese. Except for the Asian food, some of the food was just a little off. 😉

                    • Personally I love Tex-Mex, but it is hard to find good Tex-Mex many places. The best Chinese restuarant I ever ate at was owned by a Chinese couple who didn’t speak English (well the wife came out talked to me for 5-10 minutes a couple of times, I think she THOUGHT she spoke English, but she didn’t) and the husband did all the cooking.

              • Best fish & Chips ever — little place in Astoria Oregon called The Wet Dog Cafe. It’s a strip club after nine, but it’s fine during the day.

          • Reviews suggest the best gyro in Reno are at Niko’s Greek Kitchen, downtown. No personal experience, so caveat emptor.

            • Thanks – since my doc moved to South Reno I don’t go downtown very often. And, with the mess on the roads (NV state flowers and trees), it is hard to get anywhere.

              • I am trying to get my head wrapped around this. Is this some kind of thing where if a ‘protected’ item grows no one goes?

                • Umm the NV flower is the traffic cone and the NV tree is the traffic barrel. –it is an inside joke.

                  • We call the traffic barrels the Dalek invasion, and the new skinny version as anorexic ones.

                    • *snort – we only have a few major roads and they are always being “improved.” Since I have lived in Nevada since 2003, there have been those “flowers and trees” on almost every road in both LV and Reno. This year has been the worst in Reno. They have been working on 395 and at one point had most of the exits and entrances of the freeway blocked off one time or another. We saw some of the worst areas of Reno (a pimp and his lady) on one of our detours. And then we have the air show, and the car show, and the ballons… so this month and next month I stay away from Reno entirely. (Messes up Sparks as well because Reno and Sparks have grown into each other).

                    • Heh. In New Mexico, some people believe that the “repair” of I-25 in Trinidad CO is really an entrance to Purgatory. No one knows when it started, no one knows when it will end, and you are trapped there for what seems like eternity, only interrupted by moments of terror when someone does something foolish.

                    • They should know better, Purgatory is off of NM 152, near Silver City. 😉

                    • You can thank your estimable Senator for all the road construction, most of it is paid for with federal dollars. Idaho on the other hand is the wrong color, so we have much less road construction to deal with 😉

                    • So maybe these politicos are building freeways to hell in a lot of States. another story idea 😉

                    • Ah, but why would all the politicos want to funnel us up to Michigan? I guess that would eventually be part of the story.

                    • Do I dare say the name Harry Reid. I hold him personally responsible.

                    • Milton Friedman observed:

                      People have a great misconception in this way, they think way they solve things by electing the right people. Its nice to elect the right people, but that isn’t the way you solve them. The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things!

                      I don’t blame Harry Reid, I blame the people who vote for him and in turn accept his bribes.

                    • CACS so funny for a minute I thought you meant Silver City, NV which is next to Virgina City. 😉

                    • So sorry, I was thinking Purgatory Chasm in NM, with hiking trails and all. (And, looking at my maps, sigh, I miss the route 666 designation. I guess the signs for 491 don’t get stolen as often.)

              • My pleasure. I’m visiting my parents in Sparks, so I’m a wee bit more clued-in than I’d normally be (windward side of Oahu). Also, my google fu is strong this morning.

        • We have a lot of Lebanese Greek places here in Ohio. Not that I don’t like Greek Greek places, but the first gyro I ever had was Lebanese Greek.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        Columbus is a little more than 10 minutes away, but there was a good one right across High Street from the OSU campus when I lived there. Unfortunately, it’s been 25 years, so it the owner may have retired by now.

  2. I often find myself quoting Paul Simon, but without the irony he intended: these ARE the days of miracles and wonders. But as the “time traveler” in Spider Robinson’s first Callahan story pointed out, we mostly don’t notice the changes because we lived through them.

    Speaking of old mystery stories that don’t work today… I caught an old episode of Highway Patrol from the 50s. I laughed when the police officer had to find a pay phone to report his status. Not only before cell phones, but before patrol car radios!

    • Not before patrol car radios — plenty of London, New York and LA crime dramas show those in the Thirties. The Highway Patrol didn’t spring for the funding, that’s all.

    • In one of my bleaker turns I bought Warren Ellis’s “Doktor Sleepless” anthology Engines of Desire last week. The not-so-good Doktor has a pretty good rant about people with IM Lenses (basically an iPhone that fits into a contact lens) and cybernetic bodymods (which are about as expensive and hard to get as a tattoo in our universe) whining about not having “the future they were promised.”

      For a less nihilistic discussion of the same point, see LouisCK’s rant, “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” on Conan O’Brien’s show. (N.B. I do not like LouisCK but he makes a good argument.)

      “You’re sitting in a chair… in the sky!

  3. We look for the big tech – rocket commuting, extra-solar system exploration, a lunar base – and miss that small tech is where all the changes have been. Microchips, software codes, new types of food (golden rice, pomellos), new medical technologies and practices (stem cell transplants for lymphoma; the Segway company’s new artificial limbs; laparoscopic surgery and microsurgeries), GoreTex and fleece and other textiles. We imagined an industrial science fiction and got a consumer one. 🙂

    • Free-range Oyster

      You know, we have some pretty amazing industrial science fiction coming into being as well. Still in its infancy, really, but the accessibility of quality manufacturing machinery (CNC lathes, 3D printers, etc.) to the hobbyist market is truly incredible when you stop to think about it. I could set up a very respectable manufacturing site in my garage – capable of working in metal, wood, or plastic – for less than the cost of a new pickup truck.*

      *Prices change, YMMV, do not quote me, unless you want to give me the money to put it to the test.

      • It is important to note that the scale of things changes. Stuff that used to require industrial scale facilities — music recording, film and video, book publishing, recreational drug production — can now be done in people’s basements at a cost of pennies for what once were dollars.

        • Yes. And that will change society more than flying cars would have.

          • Free-range Oyster

            There was a quote I loved in the signature of one of the denizens in an online forum I used to frequent four or five years ago. I can no longer find it, but it went something like this:

            “I am posting this from a chunk of metal and plastic about the size of a couple of decks of playing cards. I just finished watching a movie on this same device while riding the bus home from work. I will probably watch another before I arrive home. This future is way cooler than the jet pack future.”

    • Wayne Blackburn

      There’s a lot of industrial change, too, we just don’t see it, except where it bleeds into consumer goods.

      – Fiber Composites create super strength with ultra-light weight (Anyone know the weight of Lance Armstrong’s bicycle? It’s less that 3 pounds, I believe), enabling next-gen jet fighters that can literally kill their pilot with g-forces.

      – Carbon nanotubes and Buckeyballs – superstrong fibers, phase-change ballistic materials (they’re flexible until shot), potential increases in solar cell efficiency that might ACTUALLY make cost-effective.

      – Graphene, the strongest material in the world, which also can be used to make a perfect water distillation process (a form of it allows water molecules only to pass through, and will even stop Helium atoms). We’re only starting to be able to use this for anything, though. It’s truly bleeding edge.

      – And don’t forget the MRI, which has far more uses than in the medical industry.

      I could go on.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        Hmm… didn’t read FreeRangeOyster’s comment carefully, or would have worded that differently, to show that I had seen it first.

      • A while back I read an excellent book titled Why Things Break: Understanding the World By the Way It Comes Apart, by materials scientist Mark Eberhart. [ http://www.amazon.com/Why-Things-Break-Understanding-World/dp/1400048834 ] (Read the reviews – this is a highly readable engineering book.) He makes the point that we are only recently able to design material as opposed to creating amalgams and finding out if they will do what we hoped. BIG technological breakthrough.

        It is important to keep in mind that most of the technological advances we’ve achieved have just gotten us started on learning the way things work. We’ve only just mapped the human DNA sequence, for example, and don’t yet know what we’ll be able to do with it. Our culture has just started on the tools we need to make the tools we’ll need to make the stuff we want.

      • Composites have made a real change in the world of knitting needles. While some have proven not so good, some are fantastic. For example one company makes carbon-fiber composite double-point needles that are incredibly strong, responsive and nearly unbreakable even down to the 1.25mm size.

  4. When we have the Human Wave movement ticking along on autopilot, can we instigate the Telecommuting Worker’s Front? I’ve been wanting to do that for AGES. My current employer only allows it on a daily, at-need basis (which is better than nothing) , mostly because they fear lack of work ethic. If the work gets done why do they care? Plus, attending stupid meetings in your comfy pajamas with the mute button on so they can’t tell you are playing Minesweeper while someone is bloviating.

    Totally agree about the marvels of laparoscopic surgery, TXRed. When I had my traitorous gallbladder removed last year it was an *outpatient* procedure. If you had told a doctor twenty years ago gallbladder removal would not require any hospital stay they would have beaten you about the head and neck with a copy of the Current Pharmaceuticals Guide and told you to stop ingesting hallucinogens.

    • yes. EXACTLY. Actually my husband has found he is more productive at home — as I think are most people. And if they don’t trust the employees, why hire them? Will they get stupid kids who don’t work? Sure, but they get them now.

      Human Wave — when I’m quite settled at home for fall/winter, we’ll get working on the site and also a Human Wave award — we’re thinking of calling it The Locke. 😉

      • If you don’t make people come in to an office to work, how do you justify your supervisor job? “Supervising” workers is where the money is. Allow telecommuting and you’ll put plenty of pointy-haired people out of work.

        Well, and there are always the people who will spend their day surfing the internet for pron instead of writing regulations governing the % and size of the solids required to distinguish tomato sauce from crushed tomatoes so we can assign different tax duties and subsidies.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          There’s still the need for supervisors. My boss lives in Norfolk, VA, which is pretty much the same as telecommuting as far as my interactions with her go, but MY job would be much more of a PITA without her as a buffer between us and the rest of management trying to pull our time in multiple directions.

          The “over-the-shoulder” supervisor is really a Service and Manufacturing artifact, and you just can’t telecommute to any of those. Except the phone bank types, of course.

      • Warning: OSHA in your home.

        Now write the horror stories.

        • I just got the chills.

        • Free-range Oyster

          I had just eaten, CACS! Are you going to come clean this carpet now? /grumble

          • Sorry. But really, one has to consider all of what could happen. Vigilance!

            In one state, due to some clever legislation, if you have a home day care you automatically are signed up for the union and have to pay dues. Again I say, vigilance!

      • Seconding the name-choice of the Locke. (All the puns available, too! Best ebook? Locke-and-Load. Certain winner? Locked in. Prison Mystery? Locked down… High-flying? Locke Out Below! …I grew up on Callahan’s; I pray my sense of homage does not offend.)

    • My spouse, before he retired, was actually doing telecommunting one day a week — a lot of the issues against doing it more was the “team” part, where people would wander into his office (or vice versa) so they could discuss the projects they were on, or projects in his area of expertise. I’m not sure if vidphone pings would be more disruptive than “knock on door, have a short question” or not.

      • They’re actually less disruptive, because there’s less tendency to stay on and discuss what your wife said last night and what you answered. I don’t know if that makes sense. Friendships still form but not the “in each other’s pockets effect.”

        • Hm! I don’t recall ze spouse talking about that sort of interruption too much — but then, Vulcans, y’know? Very focused at times.

          (If you now have the mental image of Spock reading the Girl Genius novelization and snickering occasionally… Yeah, that’ll do.)

    • And yet some of us still wind up with a bag out our sides for five days afterwards….

  5. I really want to read Marshall’s article. He’s of the first PC generation, he doen’t remember not having a PC. Dan and Sarah gave him a computer so early he couldn’t pronounce the word, he called it his ‘pooter. Yes, unbearably cute.

    • Yeah. Dan’s employer was getting rid of a batch of old computers and it was cheaper to sell it to us for a nominal fee than pay disposal. And I wanted my computer back from the one and a half year old who was playing learning to read games on it all day long!

      • Dan and Sarah gave him a computer so early he couldn’t pronounce the word, he called it his ‘pooter. Yes, unbearably cute.

        My two-year old can’t say “Daddy’s Kindle”, but he tries really hard because THAT’s where the Spongebob Movie and various Dreamworks and Disney movies reside. Yes, I love hearing him try to say it.

    • Stryder Barlow

      I’ve had access to a computer most of my life as well, joined computer club when I was eight, in 1989, and would go home and play math maze on the Apple 2 my mom used for her spreadsheets for the horses. (Mom supported us while my Dad was recovering from his neck injury by successfully gambling on the ponies.)

  6. I remember the effects in the comic book industry instigated by UPS & FedEx. All super-heroes lived in Manhattan (however thinly disguised) because that was where the publishers were, and where the publishers were was where the creators had better be. Artists were expected to show up and deliver their finished pages on a regular basis, which meant commuting with a bulky portfolio. Suddenly, FedEx (which according to legend was a senior thesis that got an “F” as totally unworkable) meant you could live in Los Angeles or St Louis or Orlando and turn in your pages not only on time but with far less personal effort.

    Trains meant instead of crowding into Manhattan tenements, families could live in the lovely garden spot of Brooklyn. Commuter rail caused suburbs. The automobile expanded the area and altered the living pattern by not requiring easy access to a train station.

    Looking for out of print books used to mean trolling used bookstores every where you went. Sure, I miss the thrill of the hunt, but I can go online and find a FB community where I can recapture that.

    Us old folk remember when fruits and vegetables and even some meats had seasons. May meant strawberries were in season and readily available, late summer meant watermelon. Spring meant lamb and veal. All that has changed in our future that has come.

    • Oh yes – I am old enough to remember fruits and vegetables in season. Of course, I lived in a farming community then.

    • RES, fresh produce is seasonal again, at least in the places I have lived and currently live. Not to the extent that cabbage is only found in fall and strawberries only in May, but close to it. Lamb, other than imported leg o’ lamb, is only found in spring. I suspect transportation costs play a major role, that and people tightening their budgets and not buying as much fresh produce, so more goes bad, so the grocers order less of the least common or most fragile items, and so on.

      • A friend of mine whose family raises sheep (and the major cash crop from sheep is not wool, but lamb) tells me they’ve been encouraging their girls to lamb all year round (otherwise they get no sleep for the entire spring lambing season), so lamb could be a year round thing as well.

      • The Locavore movement is a contributing factor. As I understand the economics, it is a counterproductive scheme that works about as well as most such liberal fads. The key is that nowadays we don’t have to accept things being out of season, we can choose to.

        • Eh, I wouldn’t be quite so harsh on the locavore movement as that. They get one thing right: fruit that’s been allowed to ripen on the tree/vine/bush, usually tastes better than fruit that was picked not quite as ripe and then ripened over the week it spent in shipping. And if you want to buy fruit that was just picked yesterday, you pretty much have to buy it locally.

          Take tomatoes, for example (shut up, they are too a fruit, botanically): I grew up in France where my mother would shop for produce at a twice-a-week farmer’s market in town: the economics of the market meant that most of the produce was from local farmers and had been picked a day or two before being sold. When I came to America, I found the tomatoes in the grocery store to be tasteless and insipid, until I learned to buy the more-expensive “tomatoes on the vine”, which taste like tomatoes should taste. Or take peaches: my roommate, whose father owns an orchard, can tell the difference between a peach that was picked fully-ripe and a peach picked a week ago and ripened in shipping. He refuses to buy non-local peaches not because of any political reasons, but because according to him, the taste sucks compared to what he grew up eating.

          Now, the locavores (and there are some) who basically make a religion out of it? Yeah, they’re going way past the line of common sense. But there is some common sense to be found in the locavore idea of eating things from local sources, at least when it comes to fruit and vegetables.

          • I admit I can’t recall the economics, nor do I entirely blame locavores — they are right about food quality, but wrong about pretty much everything else and their solution would make life worse for everybody. Optional is okay, but their option is expensive except in a few areas of this country. Eating only food produced within 200 miles is great if you live in Philadelphia but truly sucks in Montana. For that matter, it would be horrendously expensive to try to produce sufficient bread for all those cheesesteaks if you only “buy local.” (Hmmm, I think I’m beginning to remember the economic argument. I expect you can figure it out, too.)

            I quite concur about food quality — I insist a store-bought tomato is not a tomato. Tomatoes grow on vines in the back yard, have flavor and texture that doesn’t resemble cardboard. But I don’t give a dang about where that red stuff in my catsup or pizza sauce originates.

  7. One area where we’ve advanced tremendously is one that is dear to me personally – medicine. My grandmother was a diabetic, and had to have a daily insulin shot. I control my diabetes by one twice-daily medication, and one daily one. It doesn’t require refrigeration, and I can take it anywhere. Another major advance has been magnetic resonance imagine (MRI). Many of the problems I have couldn’t have been DIAGNOSED as little as thirty years ago. (Just a comment, but Colorado Springs has more MRI machines than all of Greece, and the Denver Metro area has more than all of Africa combined. It pays to have a wealth-producing society.)

    A personal note: I just started taking a new pain medication, gabapentin, yesterday. One of the side effects listed is possible mood swings and a change in mental functions. If anyone notices me being over-the-top weird, please let me know.

    • Yes – I agree about the medicine. TG because it has saved my life at least once.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Gabapentin good, my wife says. Likewise Cymbalta, Lyrica, Marinol, and Tizanidine. We’re going to eventually get her neuropathy under control, dammit. Pain doc says there are still a couple of neurotransmitter pathways we haven’t hit yet.

      Fortunately, she hasn’t experienced the mental side effects, just drowsiness.

      • I already take Cymbalta, and I take ultram/tramadol. We’re adding gabapentin because there are times (quite frequent lately) when that’s not enough. At least we have these medications, and many more, that weren’t available even twenty years ago. My life without them, the few times when I had to NOT take them, was pretty awful. Some of the new stem cell research is VERY promising. I’ve already volunteered to be a guinea pig.

  8. The future is rarely how we envision it. Fifty years ago, it was seen as flying cars and floating cities, not the Internet and the iPhone. It makes me wonder what life will truly look like in the next 50 years(and if I’ll be around to see it. 😀 ).

    • For the Record: I still want my flying car. Though I’d take a personal jet, too. There’s even a company that’s working on a hoverbike! I want one.

      As much as I dislike air travel (the inconvenience and intrusion into my space/life. TSA, I’m looking at you) I make sure to take time each flight to consider that I’m FLYING THROUGH THE AIR, through no means of my own. It helps me maintain perspective, and it’s pretty awesome.

      • As much as I would love to fly, I have enough problem of dealing with other people driving on the roads, to really look forward to the idea of so many having the added freedom of the air.

        • See, I just figure that it’ll pay off to be a late adopter: let a little practical Darwinism go to work, and eventually we won’t have to worry too hard as there simply won’t BE that much company off the ground.

          • I expect the vehicles will be essentially automated. Cars are about two generations from that, and only because they’re slow installing it so the frogs won’t jump.

            • The cars should have an automated and non-automated feature (except I keep thinking of EMF pulses ARG!) so that those of us who like to drive and feel the road can do it when we want to. 😉 Other times I would rather have someone else drive as I think.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                Automated vehicles will have to have multiply-redundant systems with manual override (where the override itself is manual), or else people will die as a result of the automation failing. Simple as that. Of course, it will still happen, when someone is asleep when the failure occurs, but failsafes can minimize that. In fact, if they don’t, I suspect that cities will refuse to let them in at some point, rather than welcoming them as the panacea to traffic congestion that they can be, if done right.

                • I wonder if they’ll first get into use in “Automated Lanes,” where you pull into a special parking lot, get your car-comp hooked up with the highway comp, and let the autopilot take over that way…

                  • They’re going to need this as boomers age. By the time my age group can’t drive, the nation will be top heavy with the boomers unable to drive anywhere safely. (It’s already a problem, for the older group.) Particularly if you factor in faster eye-aging for people who use computers a lot which seems to be true. They can’t all be driven around by Silver Key. Dan and I will eventually be housebound in the evenings: his eyesight is horrible and I’m already night blind.

                    • I sure would like tech like this for my mother-in-law… Like, three years ago, please. (Time-travel; another Future Tech we’re missing.)

                    • Free-range Oyster

                      “What do we want?”
                      “Time travel!”
                      “When do we want it?”
                      “That’s irrelevant!”

                    • LOL. I think the entire civilization goes pfft in the next 100 years. Why? Because otherwise there would be guys showing up on the street corners selling the equivalent of McDonald’s toys from 100 years from now, for a cool $500 now, then converting that to gold, then jumping forward again. A) things can’t be kept secret forever. B) Sooner of later we’ll find the time thingy C) Nothing, nothing stops cheesy two-bit operators from using cool tech in a way that will benefit them.

                      Of course the alternative is that this also unlocks parallel worlds and there are so many of them unpeopled — virginal Earths open for colonization — that we spread ourselves really thin and either a) lose tech or b) are too busy with other stuff.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Have you seen Niven’s (I think) analysis of why Time Travel is unlikely? Probability Travel, maybe, but actual Time Travel is not likely because people will keep changing the past until they hit a Universe where it is never discovered.

                      And I can state with a high degree of certainty that it will not be discovered in my lifetime, because I haven’t visited myself yet.

                    • A brit SF writer in the 60s/70 — John Brunner? — postulated that any universe in which time travel was invented was unstable and would ultimately crash because somebody would eventually go back and do something that prevented invention of time travel.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      That kind of depends on the energy vs time displacement requirements. If it takes the equivalent of the Sun’s output to go back more than 100 years, you really need to get the time travel before you can’t reach your target.

                    • When we introduced time travel into our Space game (tabletop RPG), we did a handwave that if you didn’t off-set your timing by a few decades, you would merge with your younger self — and the younger self would be the dominant memory-personality. This, as well as the various other unpleasant aspects of using the Jump Drive for time-travel (or at all, really…), kept a bunch of player characters from using time-travel as anything but the MacGuffin to stop an interstellar war and thereby split off from that campaign to a similar one while leaving the prior GM able to keep going if he wished.

                      (…except the entire gaming group kind of quietly up and moved into our timeline/gaming group, which we hadn’t expected. …oops.)

                    • A major webcomic which had a Huge Endless Time War as one of its major subplots just ended recently.


                      The main character eventually tricked the main villain into taking a highly modified Timesuit (a time traveling spacesuit) back to the beginning of Time, where it executed a program which made it impossible for the conditions which led the to Huge Endless Time War to happen in the first place. Et voila.

                  • Ladies and gentlemen — Yes, there would have to be a manual over-ride. Anyone recall the 1965 Northeastern Blackout? If manual over-rides did not exist then all the automated cars which depend on signal feedback from the would probably be rendered stationary, and you would have the mother of all traffic jams. Repair, service and rescue vehicles would be blocked. Doom. Could someone please remind me this is the corner of the world devoted to Human Wave?

              • An EMF event disables any car built after … I dunno, 1984? There is so much computer chippiness governing the drive train and peripherals (think the gas & brake use mechanical linkages? You weren’t paying enough attention during the recent spate of Toyota “accidental” accelerations. It is electromagnetic.)

                • You weren’t paying enough attention during the recent spate of Toyota “accidental” accelerations. It is electromagnetic”

                  A prime example of Darwinism at work. IF the accelerator stuck (something that was NEVER proven, unlike the dozens of recalls every year by GM and Ford) WHAT KIND OF IDIOT IS TOO STUPID TO THROW THE CAR IN NUETRAL!!!!!!!!!!!

                  • That was the question of young kid who was LEARNING to drive.

                  • As I understand the statistics, generally an elderly person easily flustered. Or a dishonest one hoping to take advantage of the public awareness of such potential problems to get a big payday in court. Almost all cases of this particular type of problem are traceable to driver error — stepping on the wrong pedal.

                    Only the deeply cynical would correlate the government taking the Toyota problems so ostentatiously seriously with its recent investments in GM and Chevrolet.

                    N.B. – several cars on the market offer automatic parallel parking capability. I believe I have seen ads for cars with sensors to automatically apply brakes if approaching a sensed object too quickly, but maybe they only beep to alert the driver … Technology allowing cars to “talk” to adjacent vehicles requires no breakthrough except mental — and once that becomes available, what is the over/under on how long until it is required for public roads?

              • Reminds me of Van Dam’s car in Timecop. 😛

          • The problem is keeping the Feds from trying to eliminate the Darwin factor (as they currently do). The FAA wants 100% safety, meaning that nothing is allowed to break and no humans are permitted to foul up. The way to ensure this (of course) is to impose many, many new rules. I will admit that when you fly for yourself alone, the rules are more codifications of common sense than anything. But once you involve the paying public . . . yowch. At minimum you have to learn most of three sections of the Federal Regulations, plus an operations handbook for your company, plus the manuals for your airplane(s), plus have additional testing criteria, plus limits on where and for how long you can fly, and you face higher penalties for making the same fluff-up that a non-paid pilot might make. Because all those pounds of paper make the airplane safer.

            • Tell me about it. I work in the financial industry, talk about pounds of paper and regulations, none of which solve any of the problems they’re intended to. When people break laws, you don’t prevent them in the future by creating more laws.

              • It depends on what you think is the problem they are trying to solve. If the problem is financial mismanagement, well, no – they’re actually actively exacerbating it through wasting people’s time and attention that could be spent productively and creating an illusion of safety (look at all the people who wholly misunderstand what it means to say financial statements have been audited.)

                If you think the problem is people blaming the government for not having enough regulations to protect the public …

              • The idea that words are magical will always be with us.

          • But see there is much more room in the air than on the road, so in theory this should lower the collision rate.

            • It would probably cause another mental breakdown from going to a dimension (linear–road) to 3-D air travel.

            • Mid-air collisions are very, very rare. Mid-earth collisions are, alas, guaranteed. It’s that whole “gravity” problem. And then there are the clouds with crunchy middles, aka Cumulus graniticus. Stay out of those.

              • Ummm… I know it is true now, but if these same people who have the same types of accidents (mid-earth collisions), they will probably have the mid-air collisions. You can’t legislate common-sense. 😉

              • “Use caution when approaching the edges of the air,” Casey said, pompously. “And how can these be defined, Jim?”
                “Ground, water or outer space,” Jim said, hangdog.
                “Because it is very difficult to fly a plane in all three. Even harder to fly through mountains, Jim. You would have been very disliked by what remained of the crew.”

            • Yeah, but empty space over Montgomery County PA or Camden NJ doesn’t necessarily help if, say, you are one of a large number of people commuting into the Philadelphia for one of the shows at the Civic Center complex. And who knows what the EPA and Wildlife Protection will say about any use of the air space over the estuaries and bird sanctuary to the south of the city…

              • Unless in an emergency, maneuvering to avoid an emergency, or operating with prior clearance from the authorizing agency (Fish and Game, Park Service) aircraft must remain at least 1000 feet above the highest known obstacle in a designated wildlife refuge, bird sanctuary, or national park. Special air spaces are often designated to keep you even farther away, either permanently (Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain NP) or during special events (volcanic eruptions, forest fires).

                • There are all sorts of problems, as a result, for the Philadelphia International Airport which is adjacent to said estuaries. For added fun, oil refineries are across the river from the airport. (I believe both the airport and the refineries predate the designation of the wild life/migratory bird refuge.)

  9. I notice the effect Sarah is talking about when reading Sue Grafton’s Alphabet mysteries. That the future is now and so different than what we thought it would strikes me the most when I think about how robots.are not Robby warning of danger, but spot welders ,ATM, self service gasoline pumps and a voice on the phone. Sometimes I think about “Brave New World” when I get on an elevator and push the buttons and I remember that was a person’s job when I was a child.

    • well one of the good things of cozy mysteries is to record the “texture” of daily life for the future. so much depends on when the postman comes, when the paper is delivered, etc, that those details — unimportant in the rest of life — tend to be spot on.

      • also Disney comics — vintage ones, particularly Mickey — are a good way of seeing how people lived and what they considered normal. I first found out about Victory gardens through Disney comics. The fact that Mickey carries around a gun bigger than his head is instructive. More interesting is the fact that fist fights over looking at someone’s girl the wrong way were perfectly normal (the same applies to Heinlein’s For Us the Living and to a bunch of other “candid” books of the time, where people weren’t trying to dress up reality.) The story where Donald puts a radioactive button on each of his nephews’ hats just about broke me.
        The past is another country.

        • You are aware that in the first quarter of the 20th Cent they were putting radium in breakfast cereal, to provide more pep and energy!

          • No. I wasn’t. And I only found out about foot xraying for shoe fitting via Lileks.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              I found out about it watching American Restoration. Someone brought one of the units in to be restored. They were all worried that it would be radioactive, but I’m pretty sure the X-Rays were generated by a Cathode Ray Tube, so as long as it wasn’t turned on, no problem.

              • The average person’s understanding of radiation is somewhat akin to their understanding of molecular biology, so I can kind of understand this.

                When I was an undergrad the x-ray machine we used to do radiation lab experiments was a former medical device which, at one time, had been used for acne treatments. We weren’t allowed anywhere near it while it was active: by modern standards, it was a deathtrap. (By all reports, it worked *great* for acne treatments. The delayed side effects, not so great.)

            • Read Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. It is essentially a retelling of the development of the Scientific Method. It is also a superb audiobook. One lesson I took away from it was that, over pretty much any 50-year period about half of what we thought we knew will be proven wrong, and about half of the remainder will be shown incompleat. He provides very nice coverage of radium (remember: people used to wear it on their wrists! Now kids don’t wear watches on their wrists, that’s what their cell phones are for.)

      • They do sometimes require a bit of effort to convert values — all vintage cozies should come with notes advising us of such things as Archie & Nero receiving a $50,000 fee represented two years income for an top executive.

        • yes, well… or people in Agatha Christie committing murder for 2K pounds…

          • Or look at the rate of inflation in Agatha Christie’s novels. Pre WWII (first Tommy & Tupence novel) it seemed like 500 pounds was a fortune. Post 1950 (or the last Miss Marple) book, 5000 pounds was a nice bit to blow on a Caribbean vacation.

            • sigh. I hate Tommy and Tuppence. Not as much as I hate her thrillers, but the difference isn’t great.

              • Thrillers? I thought they were all mysteries although some of them read better as historical fiction to me. I still have a small pile to finish.
                I found a connection between Christie’s mysteries and C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories the other day. I recently re-read the first Narnia book and the glowing description of the butter at the dinner table just about whacked me over the head. I remembered from Miss Christie’s work that butter was still rationed in England in the 50’s. That large, unlimited butter in Narnia was actually significant not just a random detail.

  10. Your mention of cell phones reminded me of a discussion on a newsgroup for fans of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. Someone complained that the “Scoobies” didn’t use cell phones much to keep in contact. Someone else pointed out that at the beginning of the series cell phones weren’t so common. They actually became more common during the course of the run of the show and, in later seasons, you saw folk using them.

    By the time the show had finished its run cell phones were so ubiquitous that newcomers to the series (I was a “latecomer” to it myself–having been turned off by the movie) found early episodes jarring because of their absence.

    The future has a habit of sneaking up on you and can do so with remarkable swiftness.

    • yes. I have three mysteries in the drawer unworkable as are because of the cell phone thing. It’s been VERY quick.

      • Not so quick… I carried a cell phone on a huge battery pack for a Special Olympics as a communicator in 1989. Well it wasn’t pocket size. What happened is that during the 1990s decade chips started to get miniaturized for computers… and then they had applications for all other folks. Service people (I was one of those for awhile) carried cell phones in 1996. They didn’t get cheaper until recently though. And a decade or more is like a hundred years in pre-industrial times.

        • I want to point out that even thought the cell phone had a huge battery and a huge purse to hold it in– It was still a mobile phone. You could carry it and wasn’t any heavier than some of the purses— looking around at the women here (runs)

          • it’s been astonishing the rate at which they diffused to the public, though and became affordable. The other day I had to explain to the kids the “fake car phones” of the eighties as a status symbol and they looked at me like I’d grown a second head. I think they still think I made it up. (Shrug.)

          • Yes, and now you can’t even get a bag phone, and they have discontinued service for the ones people already own. They were as much as ten times more powerful than the cheap little flipphones we have now, and got much better service in out of the way areas ;(

            • Yep, they sure beat the heck out of the current satellite phones and cheaper too.

              • You can still get new bag phones somewhere on the Internet, but they have a very small service area in the US. Mostly because the major bag phone service provider was acquired by AT&T.

                • I know, AT&T is what has service around my house, I used to have a bag phone and a directional antennae to get service at my house (no landlines) but analog service is no longer available. Luckily AT&T built a tower about two miles from my house so I switched to them, but I still used to have service in more areas with a bag phone in my truck than you can get with the little phones.

        • And that brought down the size and cost making it practical for high school and college students (which the Scoobies were). Portable phones go back a long time. I saw “car phones” for very “high end” folk as far back as the early 70’s.

          But the spread through the general population happened with remarkable swiftness.

          • I think around 1972 I heard that my rock and roll idol Roger McGuinn was carrying something called a “cell phone” around in a briefcase sized container. Bob Dylan had wanted McGuinn and the Byrds to be his backup band on the album “New Morning,” and be his opening act and backup band on the next tour, but he couldn’t locate McGuinn in the crucial week in which he needed to schedule everything. So McGuinn has carried a cell phone constantly for forty years since.

          • In 1975 I paid $100 for a pocket calculator that would add, subtract, multiply, divide and store a number in a memory buffer. A year later, another $100 bought full slide rule functionality. Nowadays? They sell them at the dollar store and you can’t find one that does only 4 functions.

            And that 1975 C-note would have bought me >200 gallons of gas, so a rough adjustment equates it to $750 in today’s coinage.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              And today, that $750 will buy a far more powerful and versatile a computer than the Cray II supercomputer in the 1980s. In fact, I think I determined recently that there are a few smartphones out there with more computing power than the Cray II.

    • When Barbara Hambly started writing more Antryg-and-Joanna short stories for direct-sale from her website, she made some comments that she was now writing historicals. No cell phones. Little Internet, even for Expert Computer Wizard Joanna. NO CELL PHONES.

      Which is such a shame. Antryg with an iPhone would be kind of awesome. Or on WoW.

      • Personally, I always thought Antryg needed a hot air balloon. And now you’ve reminded me that I bought all those stories and downloaded them. And forgot to READ them!

        • Got the most recent ones, then? She occasionally writes another… (Go read, go read!)

          Also, Antryg in a hot air balloon ride would be just… awesome. Amusement parks are something else that you’d think he’d go for.

  11. When we lived abroad, we loved exploring. We you simply pick a bus, train, or road and see where it took us. We loved exploring cities like Paris with just a map (easy to get lost there) and a metro ticket. We would find the most amazing little places to eat, local hang outs, and beautiful things and people by getting ‘lost’ along the way. And we still do that, all the time. On Sundays, generally, we will get in the truck, and at the end of the drive, someone chooses which way to turn. We keep doing that at every crossroad, stop sign, or Y in the road, taking turns. Amazing the things one can find that way.

    I worry about our kids becoming so addicted to their phones and laptops etc. It seems that they CAN’T be alone for a second. When our Crystal was about 14, she even texted her friends in her sleep! The 20-30 group of kids I know are obsessed with having the newest, fanciest, most advanced gizmo of the year. Now they have “phones” that are anything but telephones like we used to have. They are hand held computers. 4G, 5G whatever, they are no longer just phones. They are address books, calendars, cameras, video machines, calculators, music players . . . I long for the simple telephone.

    My husband was a pioneer of the work from home programs. As a consultant, he would often work from home, flying out to see his clients only if there were problems, or if it was the regular rotation for him to make face time with the client. It was great. I wish he could work from home more now, but the company is still a bit in the dark ages about that sort of thing.

    And no, I don’t use technology to find my way around a new city. I still like to have a paper map to spread out in front of me and look at the big picture. We even gave our GPS away, finding it too annoying to bother with. If we do get in a pinch, there is always Hal’s blackberry to turn to for directions. I like things old fashioned, well, compared to today’s technology.

    • My flight students cringe when I turn off their electronic flight computer and GPS and announce “dead batteries and you can’t get into the flight bag you tossed into the back seat. Now get us home.” Talk about weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth! And then the autopilot fails . . .

      • TX are you the autopilot??? I know there are autopilot on planes… but it just seemed appropriate.

        • No, I’m the incredibly irritating thing in the right seat that just sits there and lets the student stew. Or worse, I pull out a metal E-6B flight computer (circular slide rule) and solve the navigation problem as the student is trying to fly straight and level simultaneously. They have to learn sometime that equipment fails. It always fails at the Worst Possible Time ™. BTDT have the t-shirt. >:)

          • Dorothy Grant

            Heh. I flew a pre-WWII plane down from Alaska to TN with a stack of maps, a road atlas, a handheld radio with less battery life than my fuel range, and a handheld GPS that was mainly useful as a clock. (The watch died a sad death early on.)

            This isn’t to say I don’t love modern technology – I adore modern technology! I am an ardent fan of modern medicine, lightweight camping gear, kitchen tools, the economies of scale that provide relatively cheap food year round, internet and vaccinations, widespread air conditioning and indoor plumbing, and in-cockpit weather being a smartphone app away.

            But it’s good to be able to look outside the plane and be able to figure out which way the wind’s blowing, and where you are. (I cheat – down here where everything looks like an agricultural crazy quilt, I find a water tower, and circle it until I can read the name of the town on the side.)

            Don’t worry too much about the kids – when they grow up, they turn out all right. The growing up may be hard, painful, and delayed til their thirties, but it does happen.

      • Hewll, my flight instructor used to pull teh throttle back and announce “power off emergency”. Since I was flying in the practice area south of Pueblo, he’d make me go through with it, too. I’ve made quite a number of emergency landings on section roads.

      • You would have loved the pilots I knew in Civil Air Patrol, TXRed — they were *fanatics* for teaching ded reckoning and pilotage.

      • Man, it’s a Ringo kind of morning.

        “I will give you exactly one hint. You are looking the wrong way.”

        (It’s a SPACE simulated emergency. So that only leaves 360^3 – 1 other possibilities…)

    • There is a joy to serendipitous exploration. Beloved Spouse and I, on arrival at our London hotel on our long ago visit there spent our first day just wandering about. We would’ve never stumbled past the Old Curiosity Shop had we engaged in purposeful exploration. As the song says: You never know where you’re going ’till you get there.

      • No London visit should be considered complete until you’ve sampled the Saturday street sale on Portobello Road. Jean and I made it twice, looking for antique lace and lace bobbins for her, and stamps for me. Her quest turned out better than mine.

  12. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned here is the speed in which LANGUAGE has changed – or more specifically, all the new words, and new definitions for old words, that have been added since about 1950. Think about it. We talk computer jargon that no one in 1950 (except for a very small minority) could even begin to fathom. I’ve got an old 1937 dictionary. Some of the definitions for words will give you a good belly laugh.

  13. Dave Christian

    I’m reading your blog at an altitude of 39,000 feet over lake Michigan. I’m pretty sure that’s SF.

  14. My experience with “the future”? It’s always either too late to do me any good, or doesn’t work well enough to bother with.

  15. I just saw the back-end of a moose.

  16. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter


    Amazing how James H. Schmitz got so close, years before the technology was feasible.