Things I Thought For Sure We’d Have in the 21st Century

Now that I’ve got to start remembering to write ‘2011’ on all my cheques (after I just trained myself out of writing ‘2009,’ sigh), my mind naturally starts turning towards things I was expecting from the 21st century, since I think we can officially say we’re well into it, at this point. We are pushing hard on the teens here, and I’ve got to say that, thus far, I am singularly unimpressed with the level of futurism we’ve currently accomplished.

So, I remember way back in grammar school, watching a laserdisc[1. Ooooh yes, who remembers laserdiscs, the hope for the future?! No one? Ok.] about the future of transportation. I’m still rooting for a flying car, personally, although I can see some obvious drawbacks to flying car technology, but one of the things this laserdisc presentation had was a section on magnetic cars. Idea being that you could embed magnetic strips in roadways and program cars with desired routes. Would that not be the coolest thing? In addition to resolving all kinds of traffic problems and addressing the fuel problem pretty neatly, you could read or knit or something while driving (safely and legally)! For those of us beyond the clutches of public transportation, this would be a significant quality of life improver.

I’d also like to know why they have yet to invent grocery bags that do not explode when you are trudging across the middle of the parking lot in the rain with a quart of milk and a dozen eggs, already cursing yourself for forgetting to bring your reusable bags. Seriously, people, how hard can this be. All I want is a grocery bag that can actually hold groceries. And you can’t always blame the bagger for grocery bag explosions. No, clearly this is an issue of defective bag construction. If this is some sort of crafty punishment for people who forget their reusables, I am not impressed. (For that matter, what about people who reuse their paper bags, eh?)

Machines that magically make food appear. Why are they not here yet? Seems like half the futuristic movies I watch involve people waltzing up to the wall and demanding food. Usually it looks pretty questionable, but I feel like the fundamental idea is sound. I want to be able to walk up to the wall and shout ‘pad thai!’ and have it appear. Sometimes I walk up to the wall and shout ‘pad thai’ anyway, just in case. I always say you can never be too prepared.

An end to global inequality. I realise that this is usually accomplished in terrifying and dystopian ways in science fiction, like by killing all the poor people or breeding people into complacency so they actually enjoy their lower class status, but seriously. People go on about how some of the brightest minds in history lived in the 20th century, and they couldn’t get their shit together enough to figure out how to address social inequality? I know my dream of a global socialist utopia will never come to pass, but a smaller income disparity would go a long way, you know what I’m saying?

Supercool medical devices like in Star Trek that read your body by being swept over it. Oh, we’re getting there. But as far I know you can’t collect lab levels by passing a little box over someone, and that is a huge pity. Aside from the fact that it would just be rad, it could have tremendous applications for field medicine and medicine in areas where there’s limited access to facilities for medical imaging and labwork. Talk about global inequality; a diagnostic box would really level the playing field.

The clothes! Where are the clothes of the future? I want my nanomaterials, and I want them now. I want invisibility cloaks and things that never tear and things that do not get dirty. I want superlightweight fibers without seams. I want hypoallergenic fabrics in a rainbow of colours. I want convertible clothing that does not look completely ridiculous, because my spy alter ego is really getting tired of forgetting to pack a spare set of evening clothes when breaking into the Russian embassy.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days looking at various visions of the future; in novels, television shows, films, promotional demonstrations. People generally come up with pretty outlandish stuff that we’re supposed to think is from the future because it’s shiny and it’s got lights on it, but what struck me is how, fundamentally, we’ve failed to accomplish most of our goals for the future, even while inventing some pretty cool stuff along the way. It does not escape me that electronics progressed in ways people couldn’t have even imagined in, say, 1960, when they were all about automation as the future.

I jest about things I thought for sure we’d have in the 21st century, but, truly, the lack of progress we’ve made socially is both frustrating and saddening. When it comes to science fiction, the things that seem most realistic to me are the things that are the darkest, because I think they’re the most accurate.

I always say I like my science fiction hard, but I also like it dystopian, because if there’s one thing that I’ve noticed, it’s that, fundamentally, all of the advances we make tend to maintain social inequality, to uphold the status quo. No matter what we invent, nothing can compensate for the fundamentally broken society we have built for ourselves, not food producing holes in the wall or new forms of transportation or awesome clothes.