Invisible Future


  I was in the pub with some of my favourite people, talking and talking. The topic, this time, was science-fiction we have known and loved, and what it made of the future we're living in now.
     My brother Andrew said, "What they didn't foresee was that the future would be invisible."
     We all turned on him at once, and urged him to explain what he meant.
     "Take that high street out there. Back in the 50s and 60s, they thought it was going to be full of glass buildings with triangular doors that slide sideways to open. All the people dressed in skin tight silver foil -- but nobody walking because they'd all be flying through the air in little flying cars. And no pubs, like this, serving food, because everybody would just take pills instead of eating. Big changes, you see. That's what they thought about. When you wanted to make a phone call, there'd be a huge great video screen for you to make a video call."
     "There'd be some people on foot -- but they'd be sliding along on moving pavements," somebody else said.
     "Making it hard to run away when Godzilla appears," said Adam, my other brother.
     "But go outside now," Andrew said, "and it looks almost exactly as it did sixty years ago. The same buildings, the same road. Okay, maybe the buildings have bigger windows, some of them. Different signs. But it's not changed much -- I mean, look at these photos." (The pub had photographs of the locality from a hundred years ago on its walls.) "Funny old fashioned delivery vans -- the people are wearing old fashioned clothes -- but it's still pretty much the same -- same buildings, traffic in the street, people on the pavements."
     "But you said the future's invisible," I said.
     "Well, where are the giant video phones? Even 'Bladerunner' has one. Instead, it's a pretty safe bet that everybody in this pub has some kind of tiny little mobile phone that's invisible because it's in their pocket, or their bag. And even the very basic phones for senior citizens -- " this with a kindly nod to me. " -- have got cameras on them, and can text.


    "The science-fiction writers all thought of big changes. They thought of outlandish clothes, and that hasn't happened. There are lots of superficial changes in cut and trimmings, and materials have changed, but we're still wearing pretty much what we were wearing a hundred years ago. We're still eating real food -- yeah, yeah, I know you're going to start saying it's adulterated and unhealthy, but what I mean is, it still comes in big lumps that we have to bite and chew. It might be full of poly-this and poly-that, and synthetic and lacking in real nutrition -- but it's not a pill. You can't see the change. It's invisible.
     "They imagined wars fought with giant robots or soldiers wearing exo-skeletons -- but wars will be fought invisibly by hackers planting code in the enemies' computers, which makes their power stations overheat, disrupts their fuel-supplies and electronically seals all the chocolate up in the warehouses."
     There was general shock and horror around the table at this outrage.
     "Cars have improved," the bro went on, "and they've all become more aerodynamic and more similar in style -- no great fins and huge square boxy shapes. But they're still recognisable as cars. They still roll along the ground. You still drive them to airports and catch boring old planes. Nobody's whizzing over the roof-tops in them, or taking off from their back-yard with one of those personal jet-packs they promised us."


     "Oh, get over the personal jet-pack," Adam said. "Forget it. You'd never cough up for one, even if Amazon was selling them."
     "Amazon! The old writers sussed a lot, but they never saw Amazon in the tea-leaves. They'd be really disappointed -- at first glance, anyway -- if they could come back and see things now. None of the wonders they dreamed of are here.
     "The really big change is invisible. That's what I mean. They wouldn't be able to see, looking around, that almost every single person they see is invisibly connected to everyone else, almost all the time. They wouldn't be able to see that this pub -- and every other shop on this high street -- is connected invisibly to warehouses and head-offices. That people are sitting in here, buying things from Amazon on their tiny little phones. Music supplied invisibly. The Isle is full of voices."
     "My new little basic, senior citizen's phone," I said, "has an app you can set up to send SOS messages. You preset the people you want to SOS -- and then in time of need, you press the dial key four times. Isn't that brilliant? - And if somebody steals it and tries to put another SIM card in it, it shouts out for help and tells you where it is -- like the Giant's harp when Jack steals it."
     This produced a short silence.
     "And the mobile signal can be used to trace where someone is," Patti said, bringing us back from fairyland.
     "CCTV watching on practically every street," said someone else. "And connecting back to a network."
     "Google Earth," someone else said.
     "Big Brother."
     "Well, okay, George Orwell got some things right. But not the giant video screens. The Big Brother of our future won't need giant video screens. He'll control us through tiny implanted chips. Implanted at birth."
     "Nano-bots," Andrew said. "Crawling through your arteries, targeting tumours. Microbial robots. The future's invisible. And you read about it on an e-reader inserted in your retina. Invisible!"

     My personal take on the future, at the end of this link, involves the worship of ancient Norse Gods via computers, and bio domes on Mars.

All the images in this blog come from the wonderful