When I was a kid thinking about my future, there were two things that I knew for sure: I was going to be wealthy and I was going to own a flying car. After all, you need a way to get around when the weather is too severe to use your jet pack.
I was born in 1966, a child of the space age. I lived my early life in Houston, Texas, in the shadow of NASA and the Johnson Space Center. I knew the names of the astronauts whose pictures hung on my bedroom wall. I knew the designations of the rockets they piloted and I was sure that these men and the technological wave they rode would carry me into the glorious life that was the birthright of any child lucky enough to have been born in the latter half of the 20th century. Of course, as a kid in the early 70s I didn’t attempt to think about it in terms that pretended to be quite so eloquent. I just thought I’d live like George Jetson. Science was going to give that life to me.
The other detail of my future, the wealth? I didn’t spend nearly enough time thinking about how I would attain that. It was much more fun to plan what I would do with it. There were the usual ideas of luxury and travel, but the thing that I imagined in great detail was the library that would be the center of my home. I would not have some dark repository of musty tomes, no oak paneling or brown leather chairs for me. My den would be a glistening space with white furnishings and perfectly cataloged Lucite shelves, a scene from Logan’s Run made real. I would sit in my chair and my robot would bring me whatever I wanted to utilize. I use the term utilize because my library would house much more than books.
In my mind, the single greatest privilege of wealth would be the ability to sample all media and choose the most appealing parts to consume. I would buy every single book that caught my interest, read the first few chapters and keep the ones I liked. I would purchase every album by any artist that appealed to me and listen to it at least once. I would own every art book so that I could immerse myself in anything from commercial illustration to the finest pieces displayed in the Louvre. Any topic that intrigued me, from motorcycle mechanics to microsurgery, would be exhaustively represented in my collection. And of course, there would be the television and movies. I knew that soon compact video storage would be a reality; I’d seen it on Star Trek. The ability to watch, on a whim, any old episode of The Twilight Zone would be mine. The only limitation would be how quickly my robot could retrieve it.
As I got a bit older the astronauts and rockets on my walls gave way to actresses and rock stars. Somewhere along the line a basic understanding of physics brought the realization that efficient jet packs were unlikely within my lifetime. Flying cars? They do indeed exist now, but they are extremely expensive and grounded by an imposing anchor of regulatory confusion. One day I realized that the future of my past had arrived without the NASA spawned wonder promised in 70s TV shows and movies. The wealth hadn’t exactly come either but, to my surprise, many of the things I hoped wealth would bring were now available free or quite reasonably priced, courtesy of science.
Online libraries and sellers offer the first few chapters of any book as a sample, if you like it you may purchase it or at times download it free with a swipe of your finger. Much faster than waiting for a robo-butler to bring it to you. Music services offer nearly every album ever recorded in exchange for listening to a few commercials, or commercial free for a monthly fee that is less than the cost of a single cd. I used to pay twenty to fifty dollars for a single art book, now I can go to any artist’s site and view his or hers work in HD. As a bonus, there are often links to the sites of other artists he or she finds inspirational. There are more online galleries than you could visit in a lifetime and virtual tours are often an option. And movies or television (not to mention concerts, college lectures, how to videos or just people doing funny things)? Streaming services and downloads offer even the most obscure entertainment anytime you want it. My dream room exists, it sits on my desk or fits in my pocket.
When I talk to people I often pick up a feeling of anxiety or even anger when the subjects of science and technology come up. But almost everything we enjoy is enhanced by recent advancement. Are family & friends the important thing for you? Ask someone my age how annoying it was to make a long distance call and watch the clock because with every minute ticking by the bill went up. Do you love nature? I bet your backpack, fishing pole, or hunting rifle is far superior to the item your grandfather used. Most of us have loved ones who would not be with us if medicine had stalled in the fifties and we all have a life expectancy that exceeds our parents in length and quality.
Science hasn’t solved all of our problems, it never will, but it has improved our lives so much that we now expect constant innovation, and we get it! The future of the Jetsons never arrived but our world getting better every day is here. Whatever we want to do, learn, enjoy or participate in is available to us in a way that is unprecedented in human history. The entire world is in fact at your fingertips, enjoy!