One of the downsides of being a science fiction fan, both in video representations and literary, is that I was set up to believe that the future would be perfect. Perfect, at least, in the eyes of a child.
Whether it was traveling to the stars or living in a world free of strife, the future was laid out for us as Heaven on Earth. No Dystopian universe to depress us. We may have read Orwell and Huxley but were never persuaded to think that our future would-be authoritarian in nature. No, ultimate freedom and pleasure were what was in store for us.
If George Jetson worked not at all by our standards, and Jane Jetson had a robotic maid to do the housework, life would be grand indeed for us baby boomers of the ’60s.
All of our hopes and dreams for a glorious future were confirmed by the New York World’s Fair in 1964.
Whether it was in the General Electric Pavilion, Progressland, the General Motors Pavillion, Futurama, or The Ford Rotunda, the future was quite literally a Disneyland for all of us to desire.
What made this such a powerful statement of hope for a better life was that the Fair opened five months to the day after our President had been assassinated. If ever there were a time to lose hope for the future, this was one. Perhaps, it helped our nation renew its optimism for a glorious future despite the challenges we had faced and would continue to face?
When we thought about the future in the ’50s, and 60’s space flight was on the top of the list. How many times had we taken time away from math and English in order to watch a space launch? Our teachers back then realized these were historical events, and we frequently were allowed to witness them on a flickering black and white television screen.
We had heard our President declare that we would put a man (no thought of women going to space quite yet) by the end of the decade. So profound was our faith in the future that when our President was shot in 1963, we entertained no doubt that this goal would be achieved.
Indeed, we reached this goal in 1969 and remained seemingly able to launch another moon mission anytime we wanted. Then in 1968, Stanley Kubrick, along with Arthur C. Clarke, made us believe that by 2001 we would have a lunar base from which we could reach the outer planets.
Space shuttles would be the new airplane as Pan Am would expand beyond the Americas and provide space station service daily. Sadly, Kubick’s representation would prove a considerable gaff as the real Pan Am went out of business a full ten years before their so-called shuttle brought Dr. Heywood Floyd to the rotating space station on his way to the Moon.
Nevertheless, in 1968 when 2001 A Space Odyssey debuted, and a full year before Neil Armstrong took that first step, space stations, and lunar bases were still optimistically a certainty.
But the future we imagined as children of the ’50s and 60’s never seemed to come to fruition.
We have many frills of modernity that would have inspired awe in the teenagers of our youth, but few have made our lives that much better.
Sure, I can hear a song on my satellite radio and go to iTunes to instantly purchase it, but that is nothing like going to Camera Craft in Parckchester to get the first 45 copy of I Want To Hold Your Hand.
Finishing a book on my train ride home, it was nice and convenient to go to the Kindle Store and download a new book in a matter of seconds? But is this better than going to an out of the way book store and discovering an unknown author?
It’s not that we don’t have a choice in our music or books or movies, but there is no randomness about the process.
Smart Phones and Smart Televisions have their upside but so too are their downsides. Always being on the grid. Always being available. Always being calibrated by some logarithm.
Our phones and TVs may be smart but are we?
Nostalgia was something we never considered about the future. It would not even enter our mind that the future would present challenges the like of which we are now experiencing.
We read about Big Brother and the Brave New World, but they were never going to be our future, or so we dreamt.
Our dreams and whimsy’s privacy are no longer private as being on the grid is akin to standing naked in Macy’s window.
For many, work has become less laborious, but for too many, it has ceased to represent a means of changing one’s status.
Our lives are not that bad, and certainly I have no reason to bemoan my fate. It’s just that we have seemed to stagnate these last fifty years since we stopped going to the Moon.
Perhaps, successfully meeting our most significant challenge yet and eliminating the scourge of Covid-19 will help usher in those long lost dreams for a utopian future?
That indeed will be a miracle of science that will restore our faith.