I often hear people say “the future is here” usually followed by some contrite example of how some singular thing defines the now as the future we tell ourselves we were promised and entitled to. It is a self-congratulatory statement as it implies that all of existence as it is known to us – some 14 billion years or so – has been a prelude to the latest innovations of man.
“Duuuude! Flying cars, man!” someone will say, and the universe would mock our trivial smallness, our utmost insignificance if only it were an entity with such petty emotions capable of doing so and not a personified construct called into being to mock my fellow man. Even then it might decide it is better off ignoring us entirely because frankly it can’t be bothered.
There is another problem with proclaiming “the future is now:” the future being referred to is quite often (if not always) the purview of a desperately small percentage of the population. Flying cars exist – they are not particularly practical or anywhere near as sexy as we would like them to be, but they are around. The reason you have never seen one is because there are a number of hurdles beyond the development stage of these flights of fancy. Assuming you are part of the much ballyhooed 1% and can afford to buy one (there are no production models available), there are laws and regulations governing things that leave the sweet embrace of mother earth and take to the heavens. Don’t believe me? Ask someone at the FAA who Icarus was and how his gossamer wings relate to why you need to switch off your Kindle when you board an aircraft, to say nothing of flying cars.
No, friends, the world is a far less simple place than the chaotic hopefulness of our dreams and desires.
Even terrestrial cars – things we might all recognize as such – exist in categories ranging from economy to luxury and classic cars to space-age hyper tech. Looking at the inspired design of a Lamborghini Aventador in stark contrast to the Lada Niva for example or the humble London cab it is easy to believe the future is here, now, roaring past firing on all twelve cylinders, but again that is a privilege few among us will ever now. Worse, if you are the proud owner of a nice Lamborghini or even the latest electric cars whose engineering represents the cutting edge of what is possible in a production car you would still be driving on a road – not flying through the sky (something specifically requiring dedicated aerodynamics and a massive spoiler over about 135 miles an hour) as well as sharing the road with people who are all still driving relics of a past. You may have cocooned yourself in a little bubble of the future, but the vast majority of people couldn’t give a damn about the design or engineering of the future; they are in their hatchbacks and minivans on their way to work to pay the bills. They have very real concerns in the moment that must take precedence over their desires for the future.
Often times the products and services we use have very little to do with being an accurate, contemporary representation of where the scientific or aesthetic frontiers are and everything to do with what is practical, dependable, easily mass-produced, and ultimately expendable. We have aircraft equipped with scramjets that are able to traverse the diameter of the earth, dipping in and out of suborbital altitudes at theorized speeds of Mach 24 (29,000km/h) and tested speeds of Mach 5.1 in less time than it takes you to fly to a different state. Worse still, the Concorde first flew operationally in 1969 and air travel has since slowed down significantly. The future was here, but now it’s gone.
None of this gets us closer to the point however; be happy with what you have, now, and let the future bring what it may, when it may.
The author does not drive a push-rod suspension, carbotanium, intuo-drive hypercar. No flying car for me, no personal jet pack, and long lines for an even longer flight with “modern” air travel, but you know what, it’s fine. I’m happy.
I will continue to marvel at the innovations of science and the groundbreaking designs of engineers, architects, artists, and visionaries, but I am in no rush for the future to find us at some artificially accelerated pace; time passes inexorably, all that remains is to enjoy it.
December 11, 2013
I often hear pe…