Okay, so it doesn’t look a think like we expected, does it?
I mean, I keep doing a double take every time I write the year, because d*mn it all, if it’s the 21st century, I want my moon colonies. I want my flying cars. I want–
It’s easy to get confused and decide that you are in fact living in the world exactly as it was when your parents were little. Oh, sure, we have some more conveniences, but it’s really hard to think that the texture… the fabric of our lives has changed markedly.
Part of this I think is that the future of flying cars and moon colonies was pretty actively resisted by the enemies of the future TM. You know them. They’re the idiots who run around with their heads on fire saying we need to learn to take care of the Earth before we move to any other planet. This is a de-facto negating condition on getting humanity’s genetic eggs out of Earth’s basket, because holy hell, how do you even? We’re never “going to take care of the Earth” perfectly. Look, the Earth is massive, whatever these little kids in adult bodies think. They’re probably overestimating our effect on it as is. I very much doubt we have nearly the effects they think we do. It’s all hubris and a lack of imagination for the real size and the real magnitude of processes involved.
And that’s to start with.
After that comes the “if there is an oil spill somewhere in the whole world, we’re not ‘taking care of the earth'” and if there is a strip mine anywhere we’re not ready to go to another world. And–
At the end of this lies totalitarian control of everyone in the world, because, really, how else can you guarantee that a little country in the middle of Africa isn’t doing something unsound, but world government and on top of that big-brother spying on everyone and everything?
In other words, the people who would control your every move and thought don’t want you to escape to another world. I know you’re shocked.
As for flying cars, yeah, there are all sorts of reasons they’re impractical. The really funny thing is that they are startlingly similar to the reasons Heinlein gave, back in his socialist days why everyone owning a car would be impractical. The crashes! Most people aren’t smart enough/responsible enough to drive! It would be mayhem!
So– That future got handily cut off by the people who really would like you to check in with them before you take a step past the end of the street where it just might be dark.
Which brings us to the fact that you can’t block the future. You can’t. It’s like the economy. You can’t actually stop the economy or make it obey your every whim. The economy is the aggregate of everyone’s wants, and what they’re willing to do to get them fulfilled. You can no more control that kind of chaotic system than you can control the weather. If you put in price controls, you get the black market. If you institute minimum wage, you get illegal immigration. If you put in punitive taxes, you get everyone working under the table. It never ends, because human needs and wants never end, and you can’t control them, no matter how much you try.
In the same way, you can’t stop the future, not even if your ideal society existed circa 1930. You can’t force people back into the past.
Well, correction, you can. North Korea is virtually medieval. And Cuba is the place time forgot. But to do it you need totalitarian control, and, frankly, a much smaller place than the US. This is important, because as I knew as a little kid, and we’ve had confirmed, time and again, the future comes from the US.
And it did. Enter the digital revolution. I mean, who really wanted to control a few nerds messing around in their garages, with their computers? Why a lot of them worked for the government, so it must be safe.
I first encountered the internet as a dream. Someone else’s dream. I was reading Friday, the part where she spends days searching through some sort of net for the correlation between economics and the height of skirts.
Having the sort of mind that can spend days correlating trivial data will suddenly I wake up with a massive vision of something that links them all, I envied that “net” she searched. I wanted it.
Mind you, when I became aware of being jealous of it, I was no stranger to computers. It was 92 and we were connected to … something. Our library had an electronic interface, where you could order a book, with your library card number, and they would mail it to you, right to your house, without your having to leave the house at all.
To the budding writer with a very small child and only one car in the family, this was manna from heaven. And a blessing of the digital age.
My thirty year old self would die at the thought that I can look up anything I want to, at any moment, with a few key strokes. Oh, and I don’t need to worry about phone charges for connecting.
Heck, when I moved to Colorado Springs, in 93, we even had sort of an acquaintance with the net, though Dan refused to let me get aol or any of those things, because they were for the technologically unwashed. (Eh). But we knew a few domains and I was on a couple of bulletin boards. It was kind of like amateur radio with a computer, really.
Meanwhile, in real life, I was so starved for entertainment and so broke, that I went every day to troll the “free book” repositories outside used bookstores and developed a strange acquaintance with gothic romance. Also, having read their sf/f dry, I started making inroads into my library’s history. Any history, really. When desperate, I read biology text books.
We didn’t have television and we didn’t have much money. Entertainment was hard to come by.
My thirty four year old self would envy my ability to read thousands of books at a whim, a lot of them for free. She’d have killed for access to the books on Guttenberg, honestly.
But wait, there’s more. When our older son turned thirteen, we found we had birthed a member of the Big Foot tribe. I.e. he started wearing (depending on cut of shoe) either size 15 or up to a 17. There was only one store in our area who carried shoes that size, and only one style of shoe: rather dorky tennis shoes. Every six months, we made the trip to Denver (back then an hour and a half away, and looked for the one pair of shoes in the one store.) Now I can buy him shoes in every style with a few clicks on the net.
And you’re saying “we get it. It’s more convenient, it’s easier. It’s still not the future. It’s not like all of our lives have changed.
Oh, of course not. I get up in the morning, to an alarm I set on my cell phone. I have a cell phone, by the way, a number you can reach me at day and night, even when I travel out of state or overseas. Anyway, I get up to an alarm I set on my cell phone. Before I get out of bed, I check what the weather is going to be like, on the same cell phone, so I can know what clothes to wear (yeah, Colorado.)
Then I sit down and write a weblog, which is read — looks at stats — by about four thousand people all over the world seconds after I write it.
During the day I’ll check in with friends all over the world, get instant feedback on my writing. If I need to, I can get instant feedback or a question answered by my publisher.
If I’m not sure what I want to cook for dinner, or I have exotic ingredients, I will look up a recipe, and there’s almost always something.
If I want to write a story set in a time period I’m not familiar with, I can become enough of an expert for a short story in about an afternoon.
More importantly, it changed where I live and where I want to live. I hate driving (partly because my idiotic astigmatism) so for years I wanted to live near the center of town, where I could do most of the business of everyday life with either walking or a short drive. More importantly, I wanted to be near bookstores and libraries, because I’m choosy and I had to browse a lot to find something I wanted to read.
Now I mostly read on my kindle, downloaded from the internet. And yeah, walking in the suburbs is boring, but I can download an audio book to my MP3 and that keeps me happy while I walk.
Still nothing? Still every day life?
When something changes how you earn money, how you shop and where you life, there is a revolution underway.
And no, it’s not just me. I am perhaps an extreme case, given my profession, but you know it’s not just me.
Weirdly, some of this has led to people concentrating downtown, particularly young people. Part of this is the horrible economy — bigger cities produce more jobs, due to size — but part is cultural and entertainment opportunities.
But we’re in early days yet. In terms of where this simple trick (one simple trick) of being able to work, shop, and entertain yourself at a distance goes, we’re in the days of the navigators crossing the sea in little walnut-shell like boats. The mass population moves, new products, and transformation of our universe are all in the future still.
And I’ll be the one pushing for us to push this further, and to use this future to get to the future we want.
Because I STILL want moon colonies.
But all the same, we’re living in the future. And it’s a good thing, even if no one has noticed.