We Were Promised Jetpacks
If Spielberg is to be believed, we’ll all be cruising around on hoverboards in just five years. Then again, that’s probably reserved for the people who haven’t docked up at our space stations that have been hovering around for the past nine years, if Arthur C. Clarke is to be believed. All at the whim of our fascist overlords of the past 26 years, if George Orwell is to be believed. I’m still waiting for the floating space cars, but they’ve got until 2062 for that.
I mock the fantasy-future of our most creative minds, but truly, if you think about it, technology is already eroding. It’s amazing to watch some of these older films, from less than 20 years ago in some instances, and seeing how outmoded terms and prices have become. As both a film critic and a screenwriter, I’m constantly fascinated at how some of our works will translate. Slang, fashion, and music already turn some films immediately quaint. Especially when the past imagined what we would be like today. I love the video game Stubbs the Zombie — because it takes place in the today of Tomorrowland, how the people of the 1950s imagined we’d be living today. And I’m curious as to what will become obsolete.
Think about telephones. In the past, you’d have to contact the switchboard operator to get you an open line. Or if you had to make a quick phone call, the pay phone might cost a dime or a nickel. You used to be able to coolly flip a quarter at someone and tell them to “call someone who cares.” Now it’d take a handful of change, presuming you weren’t trying to call someone on a cell phone. And that’s if you can even find a pay phone anymore. There is a generation of people out there who have no idea what the hell a rotary telephone is. Cell phones are everywhere now, and I distinctly recall never getting one until I had left college in 2000. This paradigm shift has affected storytelling — as now stranding a character means also ensuring they have no signal or access to a cell phone. And don’t even get me started on beepers.
I think it’s amazing that we still refer to songlists we make for friends as “mixtapes.” Do cassettes even exist anymore? People still play records but 8-tracks have gone away. And now CDs are pretty much delivery systems for MP3s. But as a child, carefully riding the school bus with a Discman balanced on my lap so it wouldn’t constantly skip, I could never begin to imagine that maybe a decade later, I could store the 20 CDs I had in my little carrying case on a device the size of a pack of cards.
I wonder what commonplace devices nowadays will become obsolete. Because the future can swing both ways. We might develop fantastic machinery — or plunge ourselves into a Luddite dark ages where electricity is forbidden. I’m curious as to what you might think will go the way of the phonograph and laser disc.