"The Future Ain't What It Used to Be"
Technology-based reflections from a baby boomer
When you’ve lived as long as I have you see a lot of technological breakthroughs and scientific advancements. And frankly, I’m a little disappointed.
All of the books and movies that predicted what the future would bring have fallen way short of everyone’s expectations. This is 2019 and we still haven’t reached the dystopian society that was envisioned in the book 1984, which was published in 1949. (Although, we are getting closer every day.) James Bond was flying around in a jet pack in 1965 and the closest thing we have to that today are water jet packs, which are fine as a vacation activity but not a very practical mode of transportation. Back to the Future, released in 1985, was set in 2015 and the only innovation that movie got right are auto lacing sneakers. (But no one could have predicted they’d cost over $1,000.) Even our version of BTTF’s hover boards couldn’t get off the ground and periodically burst into flames. Where are all the flying cars and replicant robots and shiny silver jump suits that we were supposed to have by now? This is not the future that was promised to me on Lost in Space. (Which, by the way, was set in 1997.)
What happened to our space program? NASA was created in 1958 and eleven years later we put a man on the moon. That was almost 50 years ago and we’re still a long way from landing on another planet. We just keep throwing satellites and space stations out into the universe in orbital circle jerks. And our space stations are not nearly the hotel-like accommodations we have been expecting since 2001: A Space Odyssey. The last giant step for mankind was in 1969. Since then we’ve just been taking a bunch of baby steps for science-kind.
To me, the biggest disappointment in technological advancements has got to be in the airline industry. They were supposed to be flying us to other planets by now. But they can’t even figure out how to schedule flights at even numbered times. Why are they always scheduled to depart at 5:26 or 11:53 or some other uneven number? Why can’t they just say 5:30 or noonish? They never leave on time anyway! (Not the best argument to illustrate my point, but that’s always been a pet peeve of mine.)
Compare the first half of the 20th century to the second half. The Wright brothers invented the airplane in 1903. The first commercial flights began in 1914. Over the next 40 years, airplanes went from primitive propellers to jet engines. This ushered in the modern age of air travel that I grew up with. Since then, not much has changed. The only significant improvement was a brief flirtation with a supersonic passenger plane which travelled faster than the speed of sound. (Remember the Concorde SST?) But after a few sonic boom noise complaints, they disappeared faster than the speed of sound.
The other big technological disappointment over the past 50 years has been in the food industry. Of course I am referring to the lack of progress made to the deli meat slicer. These have been the same for as long as I can remember. We can bounce information off satellites in space almost instantaneously but we can’t figure out how to slice meat faster than one piece at a time. We can drop a whole loaf of bread into a slicer and have it all cut up in seconds. Why do we still slice meat like we’re building furniture by hand? This is why there’s usually a long line of frustrated people at the deli counter that are just moments away from turning into an angry mob.
Perhaps the worst inventions in my lifetime have been the advents of the 24-hour news channels and the rise of reality television. As much as I love watching TV, I truly believe that these have lowered our standards and subverted our culture. I expect history will look back on them as the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it.
The Kardashians, and all of the fake reality shows that followed in their wake, have raised a generation to aspire to style and easy fame over substance and hard work. Channels like FOX and MSNBC no longer report the news objectively but prefer to present their version of the facts in order to maintain ratings and influence popular opinion. Social media has thrown gasoline on these cultural dumpster fires and now they are raging out of control.
Where’s The Brady Bunch and Walter Cronkite when you need them?
On the upside, medical science has had many great achievements in dealing with diseases and extending our lifespans so that now our bodies can be kept alive long after we have lost the will to live. The microwave oven revolutionized cooking and probably contributed to the obesity problem in our country. The VCR, the DVR, and the streaming services have continually expanded our entertainment options. I now have hundreds of hours of videotapes that I will never watch because there are no more videotape machines and I already have enough movies and shows digitally saved to last a lifetime. The computer age has, in many ways, surpassed our expectations. The internet has changed the world for the better and the worse. But that’s the nature of progress. You can’t gain something without giving up something else.
There are too many advantages to the internet age to list here. Perhaps foremost among them is the enhanced communication that has brought the world closer together. Although a lot of women might say it’s online shopping, and a lot of men would probably never admit it’s online porn.
My favorite thing about the internet is the ability to look at menus before going to restaurants.
When I go to a restaurant where I’ve never been then I feel compelled to read every word on the menu to make sure I’m ordering the best of all the dishes I have to choose from. Reviewing the menu before I get there saves a lot of time and prevents those awkward moments when everyone else at the table has already finished off the bread basket while I am still trying to decide if I want the soup or the salad. This is especially helpful when dining out with people who don’t know me well and I don’t want them to see how indecisive and annoying I can be.
Plus, now I can look at pictures of the food online to see what looks good. I no longer have to strain to nonchalantly check out everyone else’s food without anyone noticing. The written descriptions on menus can often be unhelpful, if not outright misleading. In some fancy restaurants, I don’t even know what half the ingredients are that they list. Cumin? Shiso? Yuzu? Jicama? Kissamyass? I think it’s like when doctors and lawyers purposely use terms they know you don’t know just so they can feel superior and you don’t mind paying them so much. Now I can look-up these ingredients at home, so at the restaurant I can appear smarter than I really am.
Another boon to mankind was a scientific breakthrough that has completely changed my life: wrinkle spray. Oh. My. God. Have you tried this stuff? It actually works! Not like the fabric shaver (which works like mechanical moths) or the ShamWow (which somehow actually repels liquids). It practically makes ironing obsolete. I don’t even go to the cleaners anymore. I just drench all my clothes in wrinkle spray. Plus, when I travel, I never have to worry about how I pack – thanks to travel-size wrinkle spray! It may not be a big deal to you but until they find a cure for cancer, I’m putting wrinkle spray at the top of my Greatest Inventions of All Time list.
It’s just too bad they haven’t figured out how to make it work on faces, yet.
Someone once famously said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Bad grammar aside, I couldn’t agree more. The future is full of hype and hyperbole. It often gives us false hopes and breaks its promises. I think the trick is to lower your expectations and to appreciate the little things. Maybe Elon Musk can do everything he thinks he can do and the world will be catapulted into a technologically advanced future that will blow our minds. But, more likely, we will continue to slowly march forward through a series minor breakthroughs that will slightly improve our lives. While giving us a lot of frustration along the way.