It’s been 50 years since I read my first comic book about what life would be like a half-decade in the future. I remember it well; by now we would all be living in futuristic, domed cities and commuting to work in our winged cars. Whatever happened to that future? Where are all our monorails, and accident-free automobiles that drive themselves to the launch pad from which we will depart for our weekend homes on the moon? Where is that dome? Why am I still shoveling snow? Why is my hatchback stuck in a drift? Where is my self-driving aero-wagon? About the only things predicted that came true were Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio and that cash became a thing of the past – mainly because no one has any.
What happened to the house of the future that was going to clean itself and mow its own lawn? What happened to the kitchen of the future? Sure, we’ve got microwaves, but stand in front of your microwave and say “Oven, make beef stroganoff for four,” and see what happens. You’ll be standing there a long time, my friend. Why are we still taking showers and doing laundry instead of passing through our personal electrostatic showers, which would remove the day’s dirt and grime from our bodies and clothes without benefit of soap or water? What happened to the clothes that would automatically become warmer or cooler depending on the temperature? What happened to the rocket planes that were going take us from New York to Los Angeles in two hours? I’d settle for a rocket cab that could get me to the airport in two hours.
One choice prediction foresaw that all our furniture would be made out of plastic by the year 2000, and the modern housewife wouldn’t vacuum, she’d just hose everything down. What happened to robot butlers and housekeepers? Here we are expecting our own personal C-3P0 to be pushing a silent but efficient vacuum cleaner, and instead we get a $250 cat toy called the Roomba. That’s a gadget, not a future. Where is all the “Star Trek” stuff: phasers on stun and transporter beams and uniforms that never seem to get dirty? Down at my mall they’re still selling suits and ties and button-down shirts. Stuff we could have bought 50 years ago. Where are our silver Mylar jumpsuits and our thinking helmets? What happened to controlling the weather? Control it? They can barely predict it.
3-D movies? Those aren’t new – you could have watched them in the ‘50s. By now we were supposed to be watching everything in holograms. Why wasn’t “The King’s Speech” shot in holograms so we could walk around Colin Firth? Instead we’re stuck watching old-fashioned 2-D films on our cell phones. How did the experts get it so wrong?
I read a lot of stories about what things would be like today 50 years ago. None of them predicted that we’d all be drinking bottled water and recycling our garbage. No one mentioned cable TV. If someone had told me 50 years ago that “someday you’ll pay $70 a month for basic cable” we’d have laughed at them. Pay TV? When you can get all three networks for free? That’ll never happen. Not only did it happen, no one predicted it. No one predicted DVDs in the mail, the rise of Amazon.com, search engines or e-books. No one mentioned digital piracy, password memory deficit disorder, the computer gaming industry or watching someone in front of you at a movie theater watching another movie altogether on his “smart” phone. No one mentioned multitasking or screen names or distracted drivers. Can you imagine the trouble we’ll be in if they ever do come up with flying cars?
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2011, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.