09 June 2008

Where's my jetpack?

At Modern Mechanix (“Yesterday's Tomorrows Today”) I find a glimpse into the world of 2008 according to 1968:
2008 transportation is among the most important factors keeping the economy running smoothly.
... or not-so-smoothly ...
Private cars are banned inside most city cores. Moving sidewalks and electrams carry the public from one location to another.
Whaddaya know, the clogged Edge City was not impossible to anticipate.
The housewife simply determines in advance her menus for the week, then slips prepackaged meals into the freezer and lets the automatic food utility do the rest. At preset times, each meal slides into the microwave oven and is cooked or thawed. The meal then is served on disposable plastic plates. These plates, as well as knives, forks and spoons of the same material, are so inexpensive they can be discarded after use.


Computers also handle travel reservations, relay telephone messages, keep track of birthdays and anniversaries, compute taxes and even figure the monthly bills for electricity, water, telephone and other utilities.
To shop, you simply press the numbered code of a giant shopping center. You press another combination to zero in on the department and the merchandise in which you are interested. When you see what you want, you press a number that signifies “buy,” and the household computer takes over, places the order, notifies the store of the home address and subtracts the purchase price from your bank balance. Much of the family shopping is done this way. Instead of being jostled by crowds, shoppers electronically browse through the merchandise of any number of stores.
Whoa! Spot on!

Except about how this will be achieved ...

Not every family has its private computer. Many families reserve time on a city or regional computer to serve their needs.
And, of course, the capper:
People have more time for leisure activities in the year 2008. The average work day is about four hours.
Okay, not so much.

Reading stuff on that site makes me think of science fiction writer and critic Samuel R. Delaney's thoughts on four root science fictional settings.

W.H. Auden makes the point that you have four modernist world views: one Auden called New Jerusalem. New Jerusalem is the technological super city where everything is bright and shiny and clean, and all problems have been solved by the beneficent application of science. The underside of New Jerusalem is Brave New World. That's the city where everything is regimented and standardized and we all wear the same uniform. The two may just be the same thing, looked at from different angles. It's not so much a real difference in the cities themselves as it is a temperamental difference in the observers. In the same way, Auden pointed out, you have a rural counterpart to this pairing. There are people who see rural life as what Auden called Arcadia. Arcadia is that wonderful place where everyone eats natural foods and no machine larger than one person can fix in an hour is allowed in. Throughout Arcadia the breezes blow, the rains are gentle, the birds sing, and the brooks gurgle. But the underside of Arcadia is the Land of the Flies. In the Land of the Flies, fire and flood and earthquake—as well as famine and disease—are always shattering the quality of life. And if they don't shatter it, then the horrors of war are always in wait just over the hill to transform the village into a cess ridden, crowded, pestilential medieval fortress town under siege.

But once again, Auden points out, fundamentally we have a temperamental split here. Those people who are attracted to New Jerusalem will always see rural life as the Land of the Flies, at least potentially. Those people who are attracted to Arcadia will always see urban life as some form of Brave New World.

For some years, I thought SF could generally be looked at in terms of a concert of these four images ....

Obviously most of the predictions of the past are trying to describe a New Jerusalem, but my eyes read them seeming a lot more like the sterile Brave New World.

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