Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Back to the Future?

As I look around my house, it looks like the future that was envisioned when I was a kid was a little off the mark. 2009 is looking a lot like 1965, but with improved versions of everything we already had then. There hasn't really been a quantum leap to some great new, unimagined thing.

My wife has a Singer sewing machine that she got as a wedding present in 1988. It has a lot more features than the one I remember my mother having, but the basic concept is still the same.

There's a phone next to the bed. OK, so it's a push-button model, and not the old rotary one, and I can see who's calling and decide whether or not to answer the call, but it's still a phone. Even the cell phone on my belt loop is still...well...a phone. Yeah, it can be a camera too (and not a very good one at that), but it's still a phone.

And while we're speaking about the phone, the PicturePhones that I saw demonstrated in the Bell Pavillion at the 1964/65 World's Fair never did become the everyday items that they were supposed to. My mother won a pair of AT&T VideoPhones back in 1994, and with video being transmitted at a mere 8 frames per second, it was actually annoying to talk to her on it.

The clock-radio next to the bed is all solid-state now and comes on immediately at the set time. The one I had as a kid still had tubes in it, and the sound of John Gambling's voice would slowly fade in as they warmed up in the morning.

The piano that I taught myself how to play on has become a Yamaha Clavinova, with over 100 voices, and the ability to record and play back songs.

The black and white television that I had to get up from my seat to change the channels on to get maybe seven stations has become the color set with remote control and almost endless cable channels.

Now I know what you're going to say. "What about the computer? Surely you're not going to say that that's just a variation or modernization of something you had 40 years ago?"

Actually, I am. It's many things that I grew up with. It's the typewriter that I typed my book reports on in 4th grade, but with the ability to let me make major edits without retyping the whole thing. It's the calculator that my parents wouldn't let me take to school because it cost $100 in 1973 money. It's the set of encyclopedias that used to sit on the shelves in the dining room. It's all those boxes of slides and movies that sat gathering dust in the closet until company came over and we dragged out the projector. It's the phone book and atlas not just for Essex County, but for practically the entire world. And the computer of 2009 is an improvement on the first one I bought in 1987, which was basically just the typewriter.

2009 looks nothing like we thought it would when I was a kid. There are no flying cars, houses on stilts, or household robots. There are no colonies in space or under the sea. And we use pretty much the same tools now as we did then. With that in mind, how far off the mark will we be with our predictions for 2049 or even 2029? Will they be radically different worlds, or just 2009 with improved tools?

I know what I'm betting on.


  1. How very true! Were there any statements made on The Jetsons as to what year they were trying to represent? I wonder if the creators were imagining the early 21st Century or perhaps something in the 22nd or 23rd Century?

  2. "There are no flying cars, houses on stilts, or household robots."

    We have them, just not exactly as you pictured.

    Flying Car (well more like street legal aircraft): http://www.terrafugia.com/aircraft.html

    Houses on Stilts: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=4+North+Bounty+Lane,+Key+Largo,+FL&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&split=0&gl=us&ei=EnW5ScT5E4mQtQOovZ00&ll=25.084705,-80.459082&spn=0.012574,0.018346&z=16&iwloc=addr&layer=c&cbll=25.084763,-80.458997&panoid=8Lz_KYunwxg621fjhZAlDw&cbp=12,104.13052996370436,,0,5

    Household Robots: http://store.irobot.com/home/index.jsp