Touching the Future

It was touchscreens that did it. I mean, the evidence that we’re living in the future has been around for a while now – hell, you only need to be able to count – it’s 2013; we’re now two Arthur C. Clarke books into the future. But it was being woken up* by a piece of plastic the size of a playing card, and touching the word “Dismiss” on its glowing screen to shut it up – that’s the first time I genuinely got the feeling of “holy shit, I’m living in a science fiction movie”. I got it again the other day, while casually using my thumb to scroll through songs on the screen of the 1″ x 2″ device that holds every song I’ve ever owned (even the shit ones). For some reason it’s this specific act of interface that prompts a response in me. Touching the future.

Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long…

(It’s the screens that I notice in visions of the future, too. I was re-watching Demolition Man the other day – it’s set in 2032, yet seems positively quaint with all of the characters ogling blurry CRT screens.)

I was born in 1976. I’ve used a rotary telephone. I remember the occasions when our family bought its first microwave oven and its first VCR – and they genuinely were occasions. Hell, this is a photo of me in March 2000:

Josh, circa March 2000

Even then, when we were already into years that start with two-zero, look at the VCR remote next to my knee – it basically has two buttons: STOP and GO. It might as well have Fisher-Price on the label. (Also, there’s the fact that that’s a full resolution photo taken with the family’s first digital camera, which stored images on floppy disks that you slotted into the side of it.) Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for the future to catch up with me. Not in a bad way, I should make that clear – for one thing, my brand new touchscreen tablet has made writing here a lot easier; whenever I get an idea for something, there’s always a device at hand that I can tap it out on.

It’s interesting that my parents, who watched black & white television and used slide rules, seem to be taking to the future even more easily than I have – my Dad’s a bigger technophile than I am, and consistently owns a fancier cellphone and laptop than mine. My one remaining grandparent seems fairly unfazed by the changes she’s witnessed in her lifetime, too – I’d have expected her to be sitting in a corner with steam permanently coming out of her ears by now. Perhaps, for them, the slope of technological change was gradual enough that nothing came at them too suddenly.

What does that mean for the next generation, though? My three-year-old is already used to the idea that we can go on the Internet** to look for pictures of anything at all, or stream episodes of Batman through the PlayStation and onto the TV on our wall whenever we want. I haven’t introduced him to my tablet yet (it was a birthday present and he has permanently sticky fingers), but from what I’ve heard kids take to them like ducks to water. The acceleration into the future is only going to increase as he gets older – when he grows up, will he even possess the ability to be surprised by technology? Is that what future shock will really be like – permanent ennui?

OK, I just made unironic use of the word “ennui” – time to end this post and go re-educate myself with a photograph of Sylvia Plath and a beltsander.

*Well, being told to get out of bed.

**I read yesterday on a copy-editing blog that there’s growing disagreement over whether or not to capiltalise “Internet” – it seems that it’s becoming such a staple of daily existence that many feel it no longer deserves a capital, any more than “electricity” or “the weather” do.

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One thought on “Touching the Future

  1. Hewligan

    I think the clearest evidence for me that I’m living in the future was William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. It’s a cyberpunk novel, much like all his other cyberpunk novels except that:

    1) It’s set in the present
    2) The present it was set in is now about 10 years ago.

    From this, I can only conclude the future was actually over and done with a decade ago, and I’m now living in some sort of post-singularity technopocalypse.

    Yet, somehow, I still don’t get to fly to work on a rocket pack.

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