Sometimes I feel like one of those time travelling eggheads in old time-travel movies – you know the ones, dashing and forthright and very, very smart, but not smart enough to understand their own human frailties. “Good heavens!” they are often heard to say, “That newspaper indicates this is the year 2020! It’s the FUTURE!” Dun dun duuuuuhhhhhhnnn!!!
The only real difference is that, whereas said heroic know-it-all goes on to discover technological wonders undreamed of in his simpler and less worldly world,* I live here, right now. Closer than I ever dreamed possible, yet also very, very far away. And why, you may well ask, do I feel like the aforementioned chrononaut? Thanks for asking. I thought I’d lost you, right out of the gate.
Cue the Morricone soundtrack and picture the scene: It’s a cloudy afternoon in July 2018. The ground outside is still wet from the drenching downpour the night before. It’s also 98 degrees in the shade, which means it’s steamy as a brothel’s laundry room on a Saturday night. The swamp cooler (that’s how you know you’re in the American Southwest) is blowing warm, moist air. It’s sticky and it’s uncomfortable. Naturally, I’m naked. You don’t have to picture that part if you don’t want to. Your loss.
I’m standing in my kitchen, naked, sipping a grapefruit flavored cocktail and snacking hard on a box of organic rosemary and sea salt, stone ground crackers. This isn’t lunch. Nor is it dinner. It’s something in-between. I think hobbits have a name for it. As I snack and sip, I’m reading the side of the box, while retaining very little of the information imparted – like you do. Suddenly something jumps out at me. A series of numbers, preceded by “Snackingly delicious when used by:” FEB2020.
I gasp. That’s the future! Not like ‘oh, that’s in a couple years,’ kind of future, but more like the far-flung, flying cars and rayguns future of the above mentioned time lord. For a very brief moment, I find myself jolted out of time. Edges blur and a supernova of adrenaline flares outward from my throat, sending tingles into my extremities. The FUUUUuuuutuuuuuuure…
Up inside my brainpan a connection is made between some half-buried memory from my bookish, mid-70s nerd self and this very mundane action now in progress by the me-as-I-am-now. Suddenly that mundane action, reading those numbers on the side of a box of organic crackers, doesn’t seem very mundane at all. In fact, it’s positively throttling. But it doesn’t last long. It’s a fragment of a moment that plays out like a century, but it’s over almost before it starts.
And when I snap back, it doesn’t get any better. I’m disoriented, but I know where I am. I know what I’m doing. I know that February 2020 is less than two years away. But I’m also very aware of how astonishingly weird that is. Because, for a brief moment there, I was transported from then to now and it wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. Then, I mean. Not now. Or, rather, now as it should have been, as predicted then. Do you follow?
I remember a time** when books, movies and very specific television programs reflected the fact that we, as a society, viewed the year 2020 as something so far in the future it just HAD to be technologically marvelous. It was our future and that meant we would be prosperous and noble, wearing strange clothes picked out for us by our robot servants, and colonizing worlds in the name of the Federation Of Planets, by GAWD! We just HAD to be the shit!
See what I mean? Weird. As. Unicorn. Shit. We were SO colossally deluded…
Because today, in the year 2018, we aren’t any of those things. We aren’t prosperous and we sure as shit aren’t noble. The rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer and the poor saps in-between are being squeezed of everything that defines them. That, my friends is not prosperity. As for the rest, yeah, there are still some stunningly moronic fashion trends out there, but we can’t blame that on robots. That’s us. As for colonizing worlds; we can’t even figure out how to get along on the planet we’ve all lived on together since the dawn of freakin’ time, why the HELL should we be taking that discord and malignancy out into the stars? If anything, we need to stay quarantined!
I realize in that moment, quite suddenly, there is a Brobdingnagian gap between that namby-pamby golden age of sf vision of the future we’ve been spoon fed and the one that’s looming before us like piles of consumer-based excrement depicted in that eerily accurate prognostication: Idiocracy, by Mike Judge. Or, perhaps a better way of putting it is, maybe, instead of focusing on the bright, cheery Gene Roddenberry (all hail the Great Bird Of The Galaxy!) version of the future, we should have paid more attention to the dystopian fiction like 1984, Blade Runner and Soylent Green. They have proved to be far closer to the reality we find ourselves in now than the lies we were fed as kids***. Oh, I’m sorry. I meant predictions.
Could we maybe have reversed the trend, if we’d been more observant? Doubtful. We are what we are and, in addition to being eternally self-obsessed and forward-looking, we are also very, very human. Those who create beauty and hope and try to advance mankind are looked down upon as dissemblers and crackpots, while the common man looks up to powerful and soulless bald-faced liars leading them down the road to subjugation and mindless uniformity. We get the future we deserve, not the future we dreamed of. How much does THAT suck?
So… anybody else think that’s weird?
I meant, the time slip thing. You remember… it’s what I started talking about at the beginning… and…
*Which apparently didn’t have any science fiction, whatsoever…
**Maybe not so well, but I do remember SOME of it.
***”It’s people, you’re eating PEOPLE!” “MAAAAWWWWMMM, make him stop!” “DavidAH! Leave your sister alone and eat your soylent. It’s good for you.” “Yes, ma’am…”