In terms of flying cars and personal jet packs, the twenty-first century has been a huge letdown.
I grew up reading scifi stories in my school readers. (Whatever else there is to say about public schools in the 80s, those readers I had access to were a feast for my story-hungry soul. My fourth-grade teacher pointed me to the low shelves where an entire series of readers filled the space from wall to wall, and told me to have at it; I was a very happy girl that year.)
In the stories I read, the world of the future was a fascinating place. Want to go to China? Enter your coordinates and walk through the hyperspace door. Want to draw a picture? Pick up your light pen sketch your ideas on the smooth glass surface. Dad gets home from work via a flying car, while your teenage brother heads to zero-G basketball practice with his jetpack.
Want to talk to a friend? Press and button and call her up on video. Need more groceries? Press a button and order some. They’d be delivered via robot — which I always thought would be kind of shaky so you’d probably want to get your soda yourself.
Of course, since these stories were written in the 60s and 70s, there were minor downsides to this dazzling world, namely that the surface of the planet was so polluted and devastated that everybody had to live in biodomes or underground. But hey, who needs nature when you can communicate with people all over the world with just buttons and video monitors?
But here we are in the twenty-first century. No teleporters, no jetpacks, no family vacations to Mars. But to be fair, I guess the future isn’t a complete bust. We’ve got phones.
I remember an Asimov story set in city-sized complex that housed the world’s most powerful supercomputer. It was so large that it took thousands of people to maintain it. I don’t remember the title, but I could look it up on my phone that I carry in my pocket.
My phone lets me message friends in real time, play games, watch videos, look up who William of Orange was, take pictures, post on my blog, figure out a tip, or get step-by-step directions to any location. Sometimes I even use it to make phone calls. It’s really a fascinating piece of technology, with the additional frightening capability of world domination. But we’re so used to them that we overlook them, instead highlighting our sad lack of flying cars.
However, DJ told me about something yesterday that broke through that mundane barrier. It was something straight out of Asimov. Have you heard of Amazon Dash?
For $4.99, you can buy a button dedicated to a certain product. Tide laundry detergent, Huggies diapers, Nature’s Valley granola bars, Carefree maxi pads… there are over a hundred so far. You mount the button near your washer, pantry, bathroom, whatever; and when you’re running low on a product, you press the button. It automatically orders a new one for you.
I thought that DJ was joking. But I checked the date — April Fool’s was a couple of weeks ago — and then checked Amazon. There they are. Buttons to order new household supplies. No going to the store, no making a phone call, not even pulling out your phone and tapping “checkout.”
That’s a scifi world right there. I’m pretty amazed… for now. It’ll get mundane. I mean, that’s cool and all, but it is delivered by robots? Hmph, didn’t think so.
And I bet I could get some more detergent just as fast with a teleporting flying car.