2017 minus 09: Things yet to come

Posted: 23 December 2016 in 2017 minus

The past two day’s entries have briefly looked at things past (things I used to do that no longer do) and things present (things I do now that I didn’t used to do). And as an homage to the time of the year, here’s something on things yet to come. 

One of the things that has most struck me as my lad has gotten older, and I’ve watched him take to new technology, new social norms and new societal structures is the realisation that all of the foregoing not only change from generation to generation, but Douglas Adams’ Rules apply far wider than to just technology.

Things that seemed new and amazing to me – both in society and technology – are just… ‘normal’ for him and his contemporaries. Things that were normal for me and mine – but were new to my parents’ generation – are not only ‘the way things have always been’ for him and his, but are old hat, so much the norm that it’s odd to think they were ever otherwise. That makes me wonder what things that to his generation are – or will be – ‘new’ will be regarded by future generations as ‘the norm. 

As previously, three or four examples.

Social structures In the past couple of years, equal marriage – such a nice and more accurate term than the previously derogatory ‘gay marriage’ by which it was previously known – has become accepted in law by so many more states and countries that it’s truly astonished me. The sheer speed at which its happened has blown me away. That’s not to say, nor to pretend, that the entire process from start to finish has been speedy; it hasn’t. But the decisions to make it legal, they’veseemed  the past couple of years, to come one after another after another… at a breathtaking pace. And, mostly, in one direction: making something that was illegal… legal. I’ve no sympathy for the arguments that if “this is the thin end of the wedge”, you’ll  end up with incestuous relationships made legal, or bestiality or any of the dozen or more ridiculous and ludicrous suggestions made. I have, though, some sympathy with the suggestion that once marriage was moved away from the description of “one man + one woman” to “one person + one person” that there’s an argument for extending it to “x person(s) + x person(s)”. I struggle to find a logical reason why polyamorous relationships and marriages shouldn’t be allowed, and I’d be surprised if, in the next few decades, that doesn’t come up for discussion.

Political structures (I’ll freely admit that I’m writing this before Donald Trump has taken office so who knows what the fuck the future holds?) The political systems – the makeup of executive and legislative branches of government as well as the judiciary –  we have were, for the main part, designed at least a couple of centuries ago, and maybe it’s a measure of how seriously regard them as fixed that they have hardly changed in that time. In the US, a system designed in a time when it took several days to travel, is expected to operate the same way when it now takes mere hours, when visual communication is to all intents and purposes instantaneous. The demands of elected representatives )not delegates, or nt yet anyway) have grown beyond all measure and beyond anything that could have been foreseen when the systems were designed. I have no idea what the evolution is likely to be, but I would be astonished if the political structures we see today can bear the weight of history, and of changing demands, for another two decades, let alone longer. 

Technology It was Arthur C Clarke who said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He himself was not immune from this rule, as he once explained: while he would have believed anyone who told him back in 1962 that there would one day exist a book-sized object capable of holding the content of an entire library, he would never have accepted that the same device could find a page or word in a second and then convert it into any typeface and size from Albertus Extra Bold to Zurich Calligraphic”, referring to his memory of “seeing and hearing Lynotype machines which slowly converted ‘molten lead into front pages that required two men to lift them’”. So what technology in the future would/will seem like magic to me? The problem is that I’ve read – and seen – so much science fiction, I’m not entirely sure much would be ‘magic’ to me; I’d trust it to be science and be relatively ok with me not understanding the science behind it. I don’t completely understand the science that runs my iPad and yet I use it every day. I don’t understand the true difference between .mkv files and .mp4 files, but I’ll happily watch either. I’m not even sure I nowadays remember the science behind analogue radio, let alone digital broadcasts.

But, those caveats fully aired, what technology do I see coming our way? I’m not convinced by the idea of wearable tech other than that I’m pretty sure they’ll master Google Glass or something like it. A mixture of augmented reality and Heads Up Displays will allow us to overlay digital information on whatever we see. I’d be astonished if when meeting someone we know, there’d not be information presented for us: name, whether it’s their birthday, wife’s name, children’s names, job title etc. And similarly, when meeting someone for the first time, whatever information we already have plus an invitation to ‘connect’ digitally. I don’t see matter transportation – well, human teleportation anyway – coming for quite some time; I’d be surprised if it came during my lad’s lifetime let alone mine. And for that reason, I’d be astonished if we as a species ever ventured beyond Mars during my lifetime. The distances are simply too far for ‘normal’ travel. Will we get warp speed? Well, if the history of humanity tells us anything, it’s that if it does occur, odds are it’ll be developed by, or with the money of, the military. 

In ten years, we’ll look back at the current iPad, iPhone (other makes and models are available) and wince at the primitive tech that was inflicted upon us. (Don’t believe me? Think of how happy you’d be right now to be given an iPhone 4 or an iPad 1 as a Christmas present this year. And both were unleashed only six years ago. Ten years ago today, neither the iPhone nor the iPad existed.) 

About the only thing I can confidently predict about the tech that will be offered to us, say, in 2026 will be that it won’t live up to the concept videos that fans of the product will release in their “what do we want in the next version of [insert phone of choice]’ video holograms on YouTube, or whatever the video-hologram venue of choice is in 2026.

One more thing that’s worth throwing out there… the iPhone wasn’t he first ‘smartphone’ available for purchase by the public. It’s arguable that it’s the best smartphone, but only arguable, not conclusive. However, I think it’s fair to say that it was a game changer. Similarly, the iPad, while not being the first tablet out there, was definitely a game changer; it took the idea of a tablet from a niche item to a general item, something that wouldn’t be unusual to own. 

And that’s what I think will happen in the future; the secret to new technologies isn’t the technology itself; it’s the moment when an item (whether it’s a car, a telephone, a washing machine, a microwave) goes from being a concept, to something novel, to something everyone regards as unsurprising when someone else, someone you know, owns one. And the next big thing that’ll happen to I don’t know. I doubt many people know. But it’s a coming, and it’ll be surprising; what has changed, is he speed by which his process of innovation occurs. The concept to market prices has been sped up and whatever the Big Thing is in 2026, ten years from now, can’t be guessed at now, because it’s probably not even in the concept stage. But odds are, by 2027, you’ll want one if you don’t already own it.

People Take a good look at the people you like, the people you love, the people you admire. In years to come, some of them won’t be there. Some of them, it’s true, will still be around, or at least alive, but you’ll no longer like, love nor admire them; they won’t be part of your life any more, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But some of them? Some of them will have died. Some will have died from old age (unless you’re very uncommon, some of the people you like, love and admire are getting on in years…); some will have from accidents, some from illness, some from choice. (And when I say ‘choice’, I’m a firm believer that voluntary euthanasia will be made legal in many countries in the next decade or so; whether you support it or not, what illnesses it includes or not; I think it’s coming.) 

One of the effects of social media recording and distributing public eulogies and thoughts on the departed is the much more often stated common phrases “I hope they knew how much they were loved” and “I wish I could have told them how much they mattered to me”. Of course, some of this is self-deluding; I don’t believe for a moment that big stars, very famous people, are unaware for a moment how much their work has mattered to people, nor that they haven’t been told so by many. Also, telling someone how much they – or their achievements – have mattered to you is as much for you as it is for them. But tell them anyway; In the same way as the old line about “no one ever dies regretting they didn’t spend more time at work” is in part true, no one should ever die in ignorance that they mattered to people: family, friends, people who liked them, people who lived them, admirers alike.

Something else tomorrow, for Christmas Eve.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

  1. The new laws around choices on when and how to die are already being welded – however imperfectly – into place in Canada. There’s some continuing argument around a lot of the details, as you’d expect.

    As to this: “no one should ever die in ignorance that they mattered to people”?

    Yes. I agree with this. Without reservation.

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