Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Future Is So Yesterday

All of a sudden the world changed, and it changed again. Events, inventions, personalities, and attitudes have made these changes look not only inevitable, but easy. I'm here to tell you, they weren't.

Above you see a picture of the first computer, a thing called Univac, as it appeared in 1957. It was known as an electronic brain, and great things were predicted for it. Corporations gradually embraced the new technology, but a life with personal computers was undreamed of. We were told in a book called Future Shock that someday we would love them--women could put their recipes on them, and we could record the cocktails our friends preferred for parties we were planning. Nobody really had any idea of how the invasion of technology was truly going to affect our lives.

The world of the future was assumed to be something like the cartoon world of an animated television show in 1962 called "The Jetsons," involving a family with a personal robot to do housecleaning and a vehicle that flew them from planet to planet. Telephones with screens were assumed to be just around the corner, and indeed the technology to produce them was available, but the public demand didn't exist and the idea was seen to be an invasion of privacy.

Nobody thought of cell phones, Google, faxes, scanners. When I walk around the city now--or anywhere in the world--almost everybody I pass seems to be talking to himself (with almost imperceptible earbuds and wires connecting him to somebody off in the distance), or talking into a little device smaller than a deck of cards. First came pagers, which we carried about in our pockets, and which went off at inopportune times and required a quick exit, "I gotta go!" as soon as we saw the message. Cell phones perform the same service, although you can exit without actually leaving the premises. You just say, "Sorry, I gotta take this," and sit there gabbing away about business deals or laundry lists, or whatever is more important than courtesy to the person you're talking with.

I've written posts here about people who've changed the world as we know it. My recent one saying that about Michael Jackson raised some hackles. I tried to say that he taught us to dance in a different way, and he made us want to dance. Earlier I admitted that Julia Child had taught us to view food, wine, and cooking in a different way. I have written that Barack Obama, with his steady hand and brilliant mind, has transformed the Presidency and rendered the pundits all but ineffective. He may have also changed the way the world views people of mixed races. I do not say that these people did anything more than change the world that we knew, woke it up to new experiences, and made it more interesting to deal with. To compare them with their predecessors is to miss the point. They weren't present when the world changed this time.

I'm something of a nostalgia nut and spend a lot of time writing about the way things used to be. I've written two books about the utopian village of Fairhope, Alabama, where I grew up and learned to appreciate the eccentric and the wise. There are things about the world of today that I may never accept, but I celebrate the changes that elevate our quality of life and challenge our personal ability to change. I don't expect many to see everything the way I do; I've learned that that is not possible no matter how brilliantly I think I've explained it. I just am glad that you've joined me on this journey of finding myself--whether or not you're in Hoboken.


Steve said...

This post brings to mind a song by John Prine, "Living in the Future."
We are living in the future
I'll tell you how I know
I read it in the paper
Fifteen years ago
We're all driving rocket ships
And talking with our minds
And wearing turquoise jewelry
And standing in soup lines
We are standing in soup lines

The liner notes were as follows:
-from the anthology: [T]he idea I had came from Parade magazine in the Sunday papers. When I was growing up, it seemed like once a year some guy would write a story about how this is the way your city is going to look in 20 years. And the only city that ever looked like that was Seattle, and they built all that for the World's Fair. None of the other places had monorails. Instead, everybody's standing in soup lines or looking for jobs."

Mary Lois said...

Gives one pause.

Jennifer Dee said...

What an interesting and thought provoking post. And I love the John Prine lyrics.

Mary Lois said...

Thank you, Jennifer Dee. Hope you'll return to this blog and add your comments.

Anonymous said...

Getting back to the future and "information" causes me to feel a bit down. The idea that the world markets can be manipulated and 'past posting' can occur regularly, ones security is doubtful at best. The saving attribute of our society, though
under attack from eastern societies, is that so far we have managed to make a come back when crises come up, though the truth in the crises is not told until years later.
From the time of hope in that UNIVAC, I find myself viewing its
progeny with disdain, not its progeny but toward those uses so many make of them. What have I learned from them? To distrust more people than I would have. What is our future? The time getting there may be exciting as well as threatening. So, for the gamblers out there and those who think that they cannot be touched, good're going to need it.

Mary Lois said...

Anonymous, I promise to think that all over and see if I can make anything out of it. You hate computers? The Internet? Porn and identity theft? Such things are part of society as we have come to think of it, but were never anticipated in the early days of Univac.

Many of us experience the loss of our footing as a result of technology and the shrinking world. Our minds race while at the same time our souls are daunted. Yet enough good is accomplished to keep a spark of hope alive.

Anonymous said...

Same can be said for TNT and atomic research.