My friend Dan likes to say "It's Great Living Here In The Future" and I like it so much I'm going to steal it. He first said it in wonder and delight at some new scientific development and I instantly realized he was right, this IS the future.
So, why doesn't it seem that way? It's because this is not the future that was envisioned. I'm 53, a significant age for several reasons, I'm at the tail end of the baby boomers, the generation that has seen more technological advancement than any other. All the great, new things we use every day did not exist when I was a kid, or even a young adult. And through the 50's and 60's people loved to envision what the future would be like. I was a big fan of sci fi back then (still am) and devoured hundreds of books - and not one of them envisioned THIS future.
We were suppose to have flying cars and rocket belts - soaring, ethereal buildings - interplanetary space flight, teleportation - and intelligent computers and robots that were going to take over the world if we weren't careful. We should at least have a colony on the moon by now, and miners digging in the asteroid belt. But we have none of that.
Instead we have cell phones, computers on our desks that connect to the web so we can send email anywhere in the world and make web pages, cable TV, High Definition, DVD's and DVR - and of course, the iPod. None of the old visionaries came anywhere close to predicting what actually happened. The one who came closest was Robert Heinlein with his vision of The Crazy Years, we have most definitely entered that period of history and it's crazier than he imagined. But even Heinlein had his main character in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" going to phone booths to communicate with the AI that controlled the moon colony. No cell phone anywhere.
Why? Part of it is some things, like artificial intelligence, flying cars and space travel, have proven to be devilishly difficult to create, we still aren't anywhere close. But most important is that the course of humanity always takes the path of least resistance, the technology that we could make we worked on at a fever pitch, and I'm mainly thinking of the personal computer and the Internet. As a graphic artist I've been working on one for over 15 years yet when I was in art school in the early 70's it was all done the old way, pencils and brushes, paper, canvas, oils and watercolor. I haven't touched any of those things in years. No one ever even brought up the idea we would all be doing art on a computer.
As I go through my work day I sometimes think of all the things we can't live without in the workplace; emails, transferring large files over the internet, color printers that are cheap, copy machines and FedEx. We had none of these things when I started my art career in 1976. How did we function back then? I can't even remember.
And then there are cell phones. Now so cheap they are everywhere, you can see minimum wage workers talking on them at their lunch break - most teenagers have them. They are around so much we've now started taking them for granted, but they are an amazing technology that has advanced rapidly. 20 years ago the first cell phones were so large you needed both hands to lift them and so expensive only the rich could afford one. Now they are hardly bigger than a credit card and we can watch TV on them - and take photos that you can send to another cell phone or to an email address.
So what will the future be from here? Most likely something no one has yet imagined. But that isn't going to stop me from making predictions. In the next 50 years we are going to see an explosion of medical advances that will blow everyone's collective mind. Most of the diseases we thought we were helpless against will be gone or at least controlled, including fixing spinal columns so people can walk again - and holding back old age. For those who have lost limbs they will be come cyborgs, part man, part machine. In fact, 50 years from now nano technology will just begin to be felt and by the end of this century we will have started to transform ourselves into cyborgs, all of us. We will become the intelligent machines envisioned so long ago.
And, of course, we'll have some really awesome home entertainment systems.