Look ahead, future boy
The future is here, and - great cascading decades, Batman! - it got here much quicker than expected for those of us whom you might call older kids.
There's been plenty of good times and great people along the way, but look at the world as it is now vis-à-vis what we thought the world would be like in 2013 from a 1960s perspective. The reaction can only be (with apologies to Peggy Lee), "Is that all there is?"
In many ways, the future we now inhabit looks and feels much like the past except for the fact that nobody blows cigarette smoke in your face anymore.
Cars may look different (no fins) and (hopefully) don't spew as many noxious emissions, but they're just newer and mechanically improved versions of their antecedents. They ride the same (with hand on wheel and foot on pedal) as they glide or speed along endless miles of asphalt. But the family vehicle is still not designed to leave the ground, darn it.
Did we really foolishly imagine that one day we were going to be flitting around like the "Jetsons"? Guilty. I thought we'd be able to just hop into a car, take off like a hovercraft or on a high-speed monorail and get from Point A to Point B quicker than you could say "Buck Rogers."
With moon flight not just the stuff of Jules Verne, but, by decade's end, a reality, it was easy to envision a world much like "Star Trek." We thought it extremely plausible that within our lifetimes, humans would be able to travel faster than the speed of light to converse with intelligent purple-blob things on some celestial world just southwest of Alpha Centauri. Perhaps these wise beings might yet be able save our puny humanity, in spite of ourselves, from the follies of racial prejudice and nuclear annihilation.
But humans have not set foot on the moon since 1972, and will likely not return for another decade or more. Right now, the U.S. does not even have the operational capability to transport our own astronauts to the International Space Station. Maybe someday someone will get to see the Martian canals up close, but drat it all, it won't be anybody who still remembers watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.
A November 1968 article by James R. Berry in Popular Mechanix predicted that in 2008, we would be able to shop at home via our TV screens, that credit cards would make paper money obsolete and we would enjoy watching shows on TV screens that take up the entire wall. Very prescient; it's almost like he had a crystal ball there in front of him. But that crystal ball must have experienced serious interference when Berry further predicted that, in 2008, the average work day would be only four hours, and that, in the 21st century, doctors could give you a clean bill of health - without all that disconcerting pulling, poking and prying - just by having you sit for two minutes in a special diagnostic chair.
As we noticed how much (and how hard) our mothers and fathers had to work back in the '60s, some of us hoped (no - expected) that in our sure-to-be-better-future, we would be guaranteed many more years of leisure-free time after retiring at age 50. The absence of a cushy retirement while I am still nimble enough to enjoy it (oh, those aching knees) is an even bigger disappointment than not being able to have Scotty beam me up.
Speaking of Scotty, the website, Conversations with Nokia, points out that smartphones are not all dissimilar to those communicators that the original "Star Trek" crew used to request those beam-ups and beam-downs. But I guess you figured that out already.
The change that has most transformed the world is, of course, the Internet, something that few could fathom back in the '60s. For all its advantages, however, there is no getting around the fact that it is now possible to know quite a lot about practically everything without having to leave your house or actually talk face-to-face to a fellow human being.
The best recourse is to live each day to the fullest and not worry about the future at all because, in the end, you won't have much control when things don't quite pan out to your liking.
So here are some predictions for the next 45 years:
- In 2058, the Eagles will be striving for their first Super Bowl win.
- Candidates with the names of Clinton and Bush will be the early favorites for their respective parties' presidential nominations in 2060.
- Chocolate cake, except for servings classified as "teensie-weensie," will be prohibited by the calorie police.
- The Social Security retirement age will be extended to age 93.
- The Marriage Equality Act will be expanded to include bigamists and people in committed multi-party relationships.
- Purple-blob things just southwest of Alpha Centauri will think human beings sure are strange dudes (and dudettes).
- No one in 2058 will be checking this column to assess the quality of my predictions.
(Jake Betz is an assistant editor at The News-Item.)