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Idealog—in the ideas business

Beyond 2010

The future doesn’t quite look how we imagined it would. Be grateful

Gena Tuffery

Technology

This decade was just a day old when my friend threw it against his Facebook wall, demanding: Where’s my f***ing flying car?!

He didn’t give the new era much of a chance, granted. But after a two-month trial, I can confirm that 2010 does indeed bear an uncanny resemblance to 2000. While there’s no post-Y2K giddiness in the air, there’s not a lot of flying Corollas up there either.

A survey commissioned by scoopdaily.com backs us up—it’s not just hungover New Zealanders who are raging at the lack of cool stuff in the garage; a third of Americans also thought there would be more technological advancements by now.

It’s not hard to find the source of our impatience. A flip through Popular Mechanics’ covers archive reveals the ongoing independent flying theme began in September 1905, when a wing-strapped birdman flapped into readers’ imaginations like a bad premonition of a MORE FM competition.

Magazine layout

But with another 105 years of magazines to fill, it was inevitable that this wouldn’t be the last presentation of a fictionalised future.

Over the years that followed, Popular Mechanics vied with Popular Science and Modern Mechanix to bring you tantalising glimpses of a world where we’d ski up sheer mountain faces with the help of a strong rope and a hovering helicopter. Or, better yet, one where you could attach your bus to a giant chairlift and have a sing-along while you swing-along.

If polo is more your sport of choice, a 1950s Popular Science cover depicted a future where you could whack a floating ball while on a horse, while on a boat. Each player and horse team would have its own vessel, presumably in keeping with future SPCA guidelines.

While it’s easy to see where the seeds of present-day discontent were sown—“What? Water polo without a horse?”—you have to wonder why we realistically expected such a future to come to pass. And, more importantly, why did we want it to?

In his just-released book Your Flying Car Awaits: Robot Butlers, Lunar Vacations, and Other Dead-Wrong Predictions of the Twentieth Century, Paul Milo looks at century-old forecasters’ visions of present-day Earth. And the result shows our great-great-granddads to be as kill-joyous as they appear in their stiff sepia photos.

In The Predicted 2010 we are ruled by a World Government and speak a single language. Man-made oceans cover the planet (and the talking dolphins). On the land that’s left, nuclear explosives are used for commercial demolition and to clear rainforests. And only a small number of “technophobes” continue to “indulge” in the traditional method of conception and childbirth; the rest of us instead allow the deed to be done in a lab and “artificial growth medium”. Oh, and what’s that in the dystopian sky? A flying car!

Popular Science depicted a future where you could whack a ball while on a horse, while on a boat. you have to wonder why we expected such a future to come to pass. And why did we want it to?

But in The Actual 2010 we have other, previously unimagined things. Like 2-Minute Noodles. And now, with microwave technology being what it is, I can get them to the couch in one minute forty-five. Not quite as quick as popping the long-awaited food pill, or a piece of three-course chewing gum; but no danger of turning into a giant blueberry and being rolled off to the juicing room by a team of oompa loompas, either.

All you people who want fast food, fast cars, fast everything need to slow down and have a think. So say you get your teleportation device. What then? Have you got some industrial-strength flyspray to take in there with you? And God help you if you’ve got an unaddressed itch in your hair. Anywhere.

Basically, flying cars aside, I just don’t think the Predicted Future looks very sexy. I’m not keen to wait in bed for a man while he peels off his spangly spandex jumpsuit, only to wait a bit longer while he arranges his big, bald macro-encephalitic head on his beanbag-sized pillow.

So call me contemporary-fashioned, but I’m pretty happy with where we are now. Really, impending temperature-induced doom aside, we’re doing okay.

Yes, we have to put up with John Key, but there’s no present-day opportunity for him to be nominated Prime Minister of Earth—a job from which, if you saw him on Letterman last year, you’ll know our tourism industry would never recover.

We still have our own languages, which we’re yet to share with a single dolphin—if you think Moko is a people-hazard now, imagine him with the capacity to tell your four-year-old to F-the-F off. We still use regular explosives—as opposed to nukes—to demolish heritage buildings, and if any child is born in a lab it’s because the cab didn’t turn up in time. Okay, actually childbirth is one thing some women would like to phase out—but at the expense of traditional conception? Nah, me neither.

So Mr Facebook Mate: Where’s your f***ing flying car?!

F***ing ages away. Awesome, eh.

Originally published in Idealog #26, page 120

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Comments

A funny piece!
I, for two, am glad that 2010 is just the way that it has turned out to be. I'd definitely be one of the ones who enjoyed too much gum and had to be rolled off to the juicing room….
Thanks for the chuckle…

Well I like the flying car idea and I understand that the real powers-that-be have them in giant form.
But more basicly; Where is my personal home power generator? Where is my personal phone and internet satalite network? These are not futuristic. They would save me greatly and give me the independence they promised me just for being born in the developed world. The exploitation of my working life for the essentials is bringing me down and that pi**es my off.