Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's the Future!

Well, here we are in 2011. As far as I'm concerned, the Future began around 1974. I say that because that was the year I was introduced to touch sensitive control buttons on a friend's older brother's stereo turntable.

Yes, a turntable is something you play records on. A record is a plastic disc with a spiral groove in it. You put the record on the turntable, and it rotates. The turntable has a needle stylus that rides on the spiral groove, and little bumps and ridges in the groove translate into noise that you can listen to called music. This is, I think, where the term "groovy" comes from. So, you might think that this is all super fucking primitive, but it is the setup aboard the Voyager space probes. One each of mankind's first interstellar space probes, there is a golden record and a stylus, and instructions to aliens as to how to operate this so they can watch and listen to sounds and images from the planet Earth.

Anyway,  so instead of having chunky, clunky push buttons for controls, this turntable had little concentric metal circle controls with a light underneath them on the front panel. All you did was touch the circle control with your finger and the little light went on or off, and the turntable rotated, or stopped rotating, a round lazy susan pedestal on an axis. It was fucking cool as hell, and it was definitely something I had never seen before. Which made it all new, and therefore, from the future.

I happened to see evidence of travel into the future over the holidays at my mother's house. On the dining room table, my brother had placed an iPhone. Next to it was my mother's cell phone, which she had had since, oh, say, 1999 or so. The cell phone was actually smaller than the iPhone, but it had a push button numeric keypad and a very small liquid crystal display for showing the phone number of whomever you were calling, or who was calling you. The iPhone was just a thick black pad with a flat plastic surface on one side. If I didn't know what it was, I'd have never guessed that the surface was actually a screen. If I had fiddled with it, I'd have finally noticed a button which turned it on. And then you did everything through a touch screen interface, which, had I seen al this in 1974, probably would have made me shit my pants.

Well, actually, that's not the point. The point is, there was ten years, right there on the table. From cell phone, to wearable computer, in ten years. There was travel into the future.

Now, I actually don't think that we are seeing an unending acceleration of technology, ala Ray Kurzweil's wet little dream. I think that there are plateaus and limits and boundaries and nonlinear logistic curves when it comes to social and technological progress. In fact, even progress is somewhat delusional, as there can be (and have been) reverses. Loss of technology or craft or knowledge, as when someone keeps a secret to themselves, and it dies with them. Or the rediscovery of a technique or skill lost to common knowledge. And, yes, second derivatives are important. (An analogy from the calculus, the first derivative being velocity, the rate of change of a measure of distance over a measure of time, and then the second derivative being the change of that change, or the change of velocity over time, which is acceleration). Yes, second derivatives are important, and yet we ignore the even more important third derivative, which is the acceleration of acceleration, or as the engineers like to call it, shock.

The shock of the new. That's when you know you are in the future. Or that's what did it for me.

So, I wasn't that shocked looking at the cellphone/iPhone juxtaposition. Nor was watching my nephews play video games with just their bodies using the creepy Kinect controller. These were all trends that had been anticipated. Heck, I predicted them long before they existed, and that is, believe me,  no great feat. Nevertheless, I recognize them as being part and parcel of living in my future.

What amazing future stuff exists now that makes me shit my pants? Actually, nothing comes to mind. Have I just become jaded? Have I become inured to all the futuristic advertising, all the expectations of continued and unremitting progress? I don't think so. But if I do think of something, I'll let you all know.

Oh, Happy e-vil-Eens. Glad the Fucking Oh-ohs are over.

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