Saturday, October 13, 2007

Future Mundanity

Growing up, I wondered what it must have been like to live through a period of revolutionary technological development. I wondered how it affected people to transition from the horse to the automobile. How did people make sense of the telephone, or radio, or television? How did they reconcile these things with their prior experiences? I always had a vague notion that no one who lived through such changes could ever be truly be comfortable with the new reality. Since I literally could not conceive of life without television, it seemed to me that anyone who existed both prior to and after television had the misfortune of having lived in two distinct eras, and therefore was subject to some kind of undefined psychological maladjustment. I wish I would have gotten around to reading Toffler's Future Shock, since it deals with the same general idea, the notion that technology outpaces our ability to assimilate with it (I picked up a copy once, but still haven't read it).

However, I'm now more open to the idea that assimilation can be painless. This is partially due to my own experiences living through what I would identify as genuine technological revolutions. The World Wide Web and the cellphone are the two most impactful inventions of my life. To get a sense of how impactful these are, watch a televison program or movie or read a fiction book produced prior to the last ten years. Chances are the plot, if written today, would have to be altered to take into account the existence of the Internet or cell phones. Yet despite this, I find it remarkable how little difficulty the populace has had assimilating to the new modalities. Of course you have people who are resistant to these technologies, but such people are regarded as a curiosity by the mainstream, even objects of light reproach. For the most part, those of us who grew up with the encyclopedia as our oracle have seemlessly substituted

Perhaps part of what make our transition so painless is that for all the innovation behind our modern inventions, they are still updates of existing technology. The Internet is still largely text-based, and text goes back millenia. Cell phones are updated phones. In fact, my grandpa predicted cell phones years ago. He maintained that one day everyone would have their own phone that they would take with them wherever they went.

Therefore, as a way to guard against "future shock," it might be worthwile to predict today what the revolutions of tomorrow wil be. Based on the idea that future innovations will be based upon existing technologies I've managed to reason out three predictions:

1) All entertainment will be on-demand. This seems the most obvious, and the most likely to occur in the near future. Certain things like sporting events will remain communal events, but the time-shifting of television shows has already begun. No longer will TV networks have set schedules; they'll be a menu of shows. Blockbuster will be out of business, as movies will all be downloaded and viewed on-demand. The CD will be obsolete, as people will subscribe to a music service which will give them access to the songs they want, when and where they want them.

2) The Library of Alexandria will finally exist, and it will be accessible and searchable. This is one that I hope to live to see. The original Library of Alexandria was an attempt by ancient Egyptians to collect all the knowledge of the world, in the form of every mansucript they could acquire. Now, I believe it is within our grasp to digitally encode every book published, along with the capability to preserve every piece of film or audio ever produced. The hang-up is probably not technology, but law. But can you imagine how great it would be to do a google search of audio phrases, and get hits that include 1980s sitcoms, that you could then view on-demand? O.K., maybe not the best example of the benefits of this technology, but I'm sure the implications are obvious.

3) A new transportation system. We are coming to the end of the natural life of the current Interstate system. The new reality will be automated, environmentally-friendly vehicles. You get in your "car," and simply enter in a destination. The vehicle will then transport you, perhaps on some kind of magnetic track.

My hope is that whatever changes occur, will be around so that future generations can use their new and improved search engines to find that I predicted these things way back in 2007.


Blogger Andrew Hoehler said...

For number 3, the whole SkyTran system ( might work. (kinda hoping it will as I've been keeping an eye on it for the past couple of years).

And have no fear of Blogger's fall (though that probably won't be likely until the Googleparent goes down), for the Internet Archive ( will be there to keep a repository of your musings. :)

12:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know what? You should write something really easy for me to enjoy and to read. because, i don't like reading your big long writing things, because i think i have add and i can't focus on one thing at a time...and blah blah blah. so do a little half a post so i can actually read it and be interested. if not...well. not like anything bad will happen....but you did post your address awhile back.....

-you know.

3:18 PM  

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