The Future Is Never What It Used to Be

The future’s not what it used to be, but, then again, maybe it never was.

The future’s not what it used to be, but, then again, maybe it never was. In as far as I know, no one has ever ridden in a flying car, but, as transportation technology grew old and stale people stopped asking “where are the flying cars?” Of course, the flying car is not without its successors, some of which are more feasible than the obscure mechanisms which managed to push a wingless ton of metal into the air.

We may no longer ask where the flying cars are, but we continue to ask when we will see the privately-owned rocket ships; the automobile with the cold fusion fuel; the electric train that will carry passengers from San Francisco to San Diego in four hours. But imagined technologies do not reveal the future; they can only tell us of the present, or what the present would look like were all the objects that stood between us and utopia swept away with one wave of science’s progressive hand. It’s not unlike the self-assurances of the parents who tell themselves their children will be just like they are, only without the flaws.

In reality, the future is messy, crooked, and sometimes cruel. It does not progress in a linear pattern, always moving from one improvement to another, but often hits a dead end, until a new path in an alternate direction is forged out. The new and the juvenal is far removed from the renewed and the rejuvenated. They give birth to much, but they also kill; they create much, but they also destroy.

The future sometimes improves that which has come before. The iPad of tomorrow will be superior to the iPad of yesteryear, though they were designed by an overlapping team of engineers. But the future rarely improves on the present so much as makes it redundant. The advent of the automobile made the life of almost everyone better, and made more life possible in as far as it eased the transport of everything from food to medicine and made them slightly more affordable to those in need. But that did not prevent the horse breeders and carriage makers from losing their livelihood.

The horse breeders might have bred a faster horse or the carriage makers might have made a more efficient axel, but not to the point of effectively competing with Henry Ford’s Model T. After the automobile became available to the vast majority of middle-class Americans, the advent of America’s vast highway system—analogous to the country’s arterial circulatory system carrying vitality from the Midwest breadbasket—was almost inevitable.

The future is changing the world we occupy every day.  The smart phone is already making the camera irrelevant, perhaps insuring that Kodak will never recover from its slump and, if new trends of social networking continue as they have, hotels may themselves disappear. That future will give rise to another idealized image of what might be, while it is forgotten that the new Troy is built on the foundations of one that was sacked and leveled. But perhaps this does not matter, for there will always be another Troy for the future to burn.

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