The Future That Might Have Been

Found out about it too late – but what fun it would have been to attend: The Future That Never Was.

One of the speakers, Matt Novak, wrote a piece describing the background of the concept and the event.  It is fun – though sometimes melancholy – to go back and score our success at prediction.  Usually it seems we have dreamed bigger and grander and more gloriously than reality can keep up with.  Many of us are still wondering what happened to our jet-packs, and our robotic servants and all the rest.  But the tricky part seems to be the cultural background – and the changes it must undergo – to support the paradigm-shifting new gadgets and gizmos.  Few popular futurists – the ones who can get their pieces published in the mainstream press – want to tackle the future of political access or discretionary spending power or any of the other somewhat dryer factors that absolutely control the progress of many of the innovations we most want to see.  Apparently gadgets are relatively easy – but where they touch social, political, religious or other major cultural systems – they can face a tough row to hoe.

Even though we seem daily to struggle to hang on to the wrist-strap on the subway of change – major changes really do move rather slowly, don’t they?  The roads we travel on follow the same paths that have been roads for – in some cases – hundreds and thousands of years.  Only materials have really changed.  Our schools are still structured as they have been for 200 years (oops- I almost wrote “our schools work …”).  The default “work day” is still 8-5 – daylight hours – just as they have been for centuries.  Our values, cultural biases – all tend to linger for a long time – and when change appears certain, often something happens to snap them back to the original tradition, and we have to work the process all over again.  Pushing that boulder up the same damn hill.

So we can enjoy laughing at ourselves and the naivete of our missed prognostications: the missing gadgets whose pictures imply – somehow – that life itself has changed along with the advent of personal flying machines and an economy that promotes random fabrication of anything our hearts desire at no apparent cost (hello Star Trek!).  It would have been fun, but …

— Rich Bowers

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