Back to the future

Whatever happened to the Future? You know, the one that we were promised by the scientists and TV programmes years ago. When I was young, we were assured that it was only a matter of time before we would be holidaying on Mars. Televisions would be the size of a wall, and the images would be holographic. Food would never be a problem again, so no starvation would exist anywhere in the world. The boffins assured us, that using soya bean and seaweed as a base, they would be able to supply everyone with nutritious pellets of spongy substance, to which we could add any flavour we desired. Close your eyes, chew your pellet, and it tastes like steak and chips, or fresh lobster. And all at minimal cost too. The delicious food supplement would be delivered by a robot butler, who would take care of all the household chores, personal grooming, and administrative tasks. The working day would not be too challenging, involving little more than some relaxed video conferencing. Any undesirable job would be taken on by yet more robots, who would presumably be dealing with sewage and rubbish collections behind some shiny chrome fence.

Travel and transportation would be problem free as well. Cars would be powered by small nuclear engines. They would never need re-fuelling, and would drive themselves on metal paths, guided by computers that would never allow a collision. You just had to sit in the cabin, and relax until you arrived. Trains would run on magnetic monorail systems. They would achieve incredible speeds, and be unaffected by any weather conditions, always arriving safely, and on time. Driven by robots or computers, human error would be eliminated from all Public Transport, so it would be 100% safe. Aircraft would be the size of shopping malls. New technology would make it possible to fly the Atlantic in a couple of hours, or a trip to Australia in a working day. Ships would be giant hovercrafts, or huge hydrofoils. Either way, they would be untroubled by heavy seas, making light of long journeys across oceans.

Medical advances would mean that everyone would live to almost 150, or even just never die. Drugs would cure everything, replacement joints would be popped in during painless procedures. Everything would be renewed. Failing eyesight dealt with by the implantation of tiny cameras, deafness by tiny microphones, and so on. It seemed every news broadcast told of some new wonder that would make everything great,’in the future’.

Then there was TV’s ‘Tomorrow’s World’. This was like an unleashed Prophet. Raymond Baxter and his gang pontificating on the latest inventions with great authority, and sufficient gravitas, to make a youngster believe it would all be happening soon. We had already had dogs in space, monkeys in space, Telstar, Sputnik, then a man in space. Nothing seemed impossible to my 13 year old imagination. I had never even been in an aircraft, yet it seemed second nature to me to imagine travelling to school by personal jet pack, or planning a trip to Jupiter. By the time I was 17, there was Concorde, reducing flight time across the Atlantic. A year later, there was the first Jumbo Jet, adding lots more passengers but not going any faster. Travel by sea diminished, except for cheap cruising that brought floating holidays to the masses, and ferry services that have changed little in my lifetime. Hovercrafts appeared in small numbers but never did cope with heavy seas, or provide a real alternative to existing shipping.

By the year 2000, fantastic scientific predictions were few and far between. All the effort was now concentrated on warnings about Global Warming, melting ice caps, and the shortage of fossil fuels. I was then 48. I had still not had that trip to Mars, and the car I was driving had fuel injection but was otherwise little different to the first car I had driven in 1969. People were still starving, still dying of cancer and malaria. Mind you, the telly screens were getting bigger, though still not a hologram the size of one wall. By 2003, ‘Tomorrow’s World’ was finally cancelled by the BBC. Perhaps they realised that all those things that they kept telling us about were never going to happen. It was already ‘Tomorrow’ anyway.

So, what did we get? Aerosols, Teflon coating, solar panels, some wind farms. They did actually produce some electric cars and hybrid system cars but most are unaffordable to ordinary people, or totally impractical for everyday use. Air travel is slower, more congested, and less attractive than ever. It is cheaper though, but that’s all. Concorde and the Jumbo Jet have been consigned to museums, no replacements announced. Traffic doesn’t flow smoothly on electrically guided steel paths, and accidents are still a part of everyday travel, on any system. The age that people die is higher, though only by a couple of years. Disease is not eradicated. In fact, a stay in hospital can be more dangerous than ever, with the possibility of contracting new infections. We are not enjoying pellets of delicious flavours for our evening meal. Instead, we got Turkey Twizzlers, Chicken Nuggets, and Big Macs. They did manage to make mica protein and soya bean look like sausages, mince, or burgers. They can’t make them taste like them though.

We did get the Internet, and mobile phones. It would be churlish to argue about such advances, especially as I am using one of them to write this. I’ll have a go though. Despite all the benefits of the Internet and mobile phones and their associated computer pastimes, games, Facebook, Twitter etc. It has come at some cost. Reading and writing has lost popularity. Young people don’t ‘play out’ so much anymore, preferring the allure of killing aliens or playing a role in front of the TV. The assumption that everyone has access to a computer, or mobile phone, has marginalised a large section of society, those that have access to neither, or do not understand how to use them. Basics like spelling have vanished overnight, to be replaced by American versions, courtesy of Microsoft, or worse still, ‘text speak’. Younger people spell check everything, not bothering to learn how to spell it correctly in the first place. Information is delivered in digestible bite sized chunks, and personal communication has been reduced to this too, for a whole generation that know no better, and have no interest in finding out. Camera images are now stored on digital media. Cheaper perhaps, and with the instant fix of immediate viewing. However, manipulation and enhancement software now means that we have no idea if the image we are seeing is true or not.

The TV screens are still getting bigger. I have a friend who has one that is -almost- the size of one wall. No holograms though. More channels with less quality content, constant repeats and ‘Reality TV’. Telly may be perceived as being poor quality in the 1960’s/1970’s but there was ‘Armchair Theatre’, ‘Play for Today’, ‘Callan’, ‘Public Eye’, and many other excellent British dramas. Some have been recycled for the modern generation. ‘Emergency Ward 10’ has become ‘Casualty ‘ and ‘Holby City’. ‘Z Cars’ became ‘The Bill’ and many other Police based dramas. No new ideas really.

I suppose the moral of the story is ‘Ignore the boffins’. They used to tell people in the 1940’s that smoking was good for your health, and would improve respiration. Carrots are good to combat cancer, aren’t they? Red wine is good for your heart. Hang on though, red wine is bad for your liver isn’t it? I’m sure I read that somewhere. They just don’t know what they are talking about. It is just so much waffle and rubbish to justify their jobs, salaries, and grants. You will die when you die, get fat if you decide to eat too much, probably get cancer if you smoke but also probably get it if you don’t; just in a different part of the body. This is all common sense, historical fact, and observation.

Goodbye boffins, you let me down on the future and I just don’t believe you anymore.

16 thoughts on “Back to the future

  1. Pete, many of those things are now in one stage or another of becoming reality. For example, we don’t have hologram projections in our living room yet (the technology is still in its infancy), but we can hang a large flat screen 3D TV on the wall. Back in 1968, I thought Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” would turn out to be prophetic. But all we have today is ISS. I think the giant space station (in one form or another) and the moon base, as well as interplanetary travel, are definitely in our future, but probably another 100-200 years away. When I see SpaceX landing one of its boosters, I think of those old 1950’s sci-fi films. There are no astronauts on board those boosters, of course, but it now seems only a matter of time before the 1950’s vision becomes a reality.

    It’s disappointing that the “future” has not arrived sooner than expected. But it’s arriving. Maybe we won’t live to see its full disclosure, but future generations will indeed live in the “future.” In the meantime, if I had a few extra bucks in the bank (and in the absence of the holodeck featured on Star Trek), I’d go out and buy one of those 3D printers and have some fun creating one thing or another….


  2. Just having a quick browse through your oldies. I do like your opinion pieces. I have remarked to the OH that most of that stuff we were promised in the ’70s never happened. It should be possible for everyone to have access to clean water and food, but the way humans behave towards each other makes me think that this will never happen. Instead the world has become too populated and too greedy and if this continues humans will also become an endangered species unless those miracle food pills materialise. Now instead of the Chinese taking over the world it looks as though the Islamists will – a case of the Crusaders getting their come-uppance? The world isn’t getting any better.


  3. When I was at school I was promised the three day week. They said people were going to have to do courses to learn how to spend their leisure time.


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