The Future Isn’t That Much Fun

Observatory

Remember when you first did something that felt like genuinely being in the future and how excited you were? It might have been getting in a new car, or seeing a movie in 3D, or trying a new kind of computer for the first time.

For me, it was a trip on Concorde. I went from London to the West Indies in about four hours.

There was a secret trick to being able to afford to do this; a friend in travel told me that unlike normal commercial airlines, the Concorde fleet was seasonal. Engines are happier in perpetual use, but the Concorde had a first flight each season, going from cold to hot, which passengers were loathe to take because there was a highly unlikely but theoretical risk involved, so they sold these ‘warm-up’ flights at half price. Armed with this knowledge, I got to go twice.

It felt like the future. It was the closest ordinary people got to outer space, and will probably continue to be so in my lifetime, Elon Musk’s fantasies included. We happy few got to see the aurora borealis followed by the actual curvature of the blue earth and the blackness above the atmosphere, and when the plane hit mach speed it flashed on a monitor at the front of the cabin and you felt the thrust in your neck and back. The plane was as cramped as a racing car and completely uncommercial and just a bit terrifying, but the thrill of being onboard was the thrill of the future arriving.

Now the future is here and it’s…oh, another phone.

After having my phone stolen abroad I needed to replace it, and yesterday my iPhone 11 arrived. It is the least interesting item I have ever had to buy. The camera so very sightly different that I haven’t noticed any change. The only vaguely interesting thing about it is that it can be set up by an unusually dim six year-old. It feeds off any device you have that’s running OS11 and launches itself, so all that’s left is for you to get bored with it.

If this is the future, then the future is retro and so drably designed that it might as well be Russian. It’s time to ditch those revival tent the-future-is-here whoop-fests Apple stages every September. This time the audience looked as unenthused as members of a Jeremy Corbyn conference.

If the purchasable tech of the future lacks the thrill of Concorde at least the technology governing our wellbeing is optimistic, or would be except that for the first time our lifespans are shortening. The poisoned legacy of Donald Trump is affecting every vulnerable nation, and with the climate emergency being actively ignored there may not be that much of a future to enjoy.So let’s all get excited about phones instead.

15 comments on “The Future Isn’t That Much Fun”

  1. Ian Luck says:

    I was a child in the 1960’s – and the future was just around the corner, or so the media would have you believe. TV shows demonstrated electric cars, walking robots, a truck that walked like an AT-AT from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. There were disposable, wear once then bin them clothes made from a paper based material. Automatic homes that had motorised curtains, doors, etc. Serious claims were made for the creation of undersea cities, and ‘2001’ type space stations. I remember sitting at a school dinner table one day, and thinking that, in 2000, I would be the frightfully ancient age of 37. Everything was geared up to be a clean, bright, peaceful, and calm (in an episode of the 1970 TV series ‘UFO’, set in the far off 1980’s, an accusation of racism is countered with: “But that sort of thing died out years ago.”…) future. Got cancelled, though, somewhere along the line. The excitement of the new decade, the 1970’s was short lived. Power cuts. Uncollected rubbish. The dead remaining unburied. The dreadfully underestimatedly titled ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland (a similar misnomer was the earlier Malaysian ‘Emergency’). An upsurge in brutal crimes, and people, mainly children and young adults, ‘vanishing’ as they were on paper rounds, or playing, never to be seen again, or, more sadly, reappearing decades later, as a small pile of bones and clothing fragments, when woodland was being cleared. That endlessly optimistic future IS there somewhere, but not for us, here, now. A sad thought, but a look to the past shows the same: children in the 1890’s were probably told that the 20th Century would be a properous, peaceful, age of wonders. Instead, they almost immediately got ‘The War To End All Wars’.
    Like many my age, in the 1960’s, we were told, categorically, that everyone would have a flying car, or a jetpack. I’m still waiting for mine. These ‘Futureologists’ wouldn’t have lied to us, surely?

  2. Brooke says:

    The “FUTURE” is here…it’s just frightfully expensive.

  3. Wayne Mook says:

    The thing that made me think wow this is the future was a hole in the wall cash machine, I had a computer as a kid, even went on the net in the’80’s, but there was just something about it, not having go into the bank, an anonymous action. The future was to be automated and free. Now they are being removed and the ones that are being left charge. To get on the net you need to buy a tablet or smartphone to start, so much for the free world of information.

    British SF has a long history of Dystopias, I don’t think we are there but at times it looks like we can see their dark and terrifying edges.

    Wayne.

  4. Ken Mann says:

    and why does old futuristic music sound more futuristic than new futuristic music?

  5. Peter Dixon says:

    Climate change – see JG Ballard’s The Drowned World – getting closer every day.
    I enjoy Ballard because his stories aren’t about chisel chinned guys solving a problem ( Flash – he’s alive!) but a ragtag bunch of characters stuck in a situation they didn’t create.

    The two biggest wow moments for me were men landing on the moon and the mobile phone. The Man From UNCLE had the amazing pen radio but the idea that everyone could have a communication device, with a camera, in their pockets was fabulous.

    I’m sure Apple must be working on a laser beam function as we speak.

    The biggest disappointment though is what to wear in the future. According to Space 1999 it was flares, UFO brought us purple wigs and silver catsuits, oh and string vests in space. Tailored boiler suits seem to be an all-purpose option. But what are the best space shoes?

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Dick Tracy had a wrist radio communicator which later became a wrist tv.

  7. Wayne Mook says:

    Ken I think it’s because there is a real dearth of top notch Theremin players. (auto correct thinks Theremin must have a capital letter but trombone doesn’t.)

    Wayne.

  8. Ian Luck says:

    Wayne – it’s done that because the Theremin is named after a Mr. Theremin. Not sure if there was ever a Mr. Trombone, though.

  9. Roger says:

    So it should be Saxophone and Souzaphone, Ian Luck?
    I’m not sure, but I think the Theremin was patented and people had to go on courses when they bought one.

  10. admin says:

    Mission: To get from Concorde to the Theremin in 7 moves. Tick.

  11. Joel says:

    Chris – thanks for saying at the top “bored with” and not the ghastly, ever-present “bored of”.

  12. Ian Luck says:

    Adolphe Sax – one of the ‘Five famous Belgians’, and John Philip Sousa, the inventor of wearable brass.
    Maybe you’re right about the Theremin – I had one, for a while, and they certainly aren’t user friendly. Good fun, and great for pretending that you’re creating the score for a 1950’s Jack Arnold ‘Atom Age’ sci-fi movie. Just don’t expect to get it straight away. I’m happy enough now with my miniature Korg synthesizer (from which I can get a surprisingly authentic Theremin sound) and a handful of the astonishing ‘Pocket Operators’ if I want to make annoying electronic music.

  13. Wayne Mook says:

    Happy to help Admin.

    Cheers for the answer Ian and the defence Roger.

    Other famous Belgians

    Herge.

    Jean-Claude Van Damme. (The Muscles from Brussels.)

    Jacques Brel

    Waffle.

    Does that count?

    If not Eddy Merckx; oh and they had some painters, but could they decorate as well?

    Wayne.

  14. Ian Luck says:

    Wayne, if you replace ‘Waffle’ with Audrey Hepburn, you’ve got the five.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    How about Hieronymous Bosch? But I love Audrey Hepburn in that group of famous Belgians.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *