Week 5 – Our present is the future

One of the most interesting idea to come out of this week’s lecture is the concept that the future is based on the present to enact current reality, things that makes us nervous or unstable. Therefore the future we imagine is actually based on our present, featuring prominently any emerging technology in the contemporary times. This is evident in various versions of future we have envisioned throughout our past (and our present.)

This tension between progress and nostalgia is important in our understanding of the future visions we have  created. One such example is the movement of Steampunk, inspired by Victorian Era technology which surfaced during the 80s and early 90s. The usage of steam is an emerging technology in that era, with social concerns such as class and poverty playing an important role in its influences. This could be garnered from the anachronistic, almost dystopian feel of the genre.

With this in mind, we can also identity the major issues plaguing society in different eras from the variation of futures they have created:

The illustration above is of a 1922 view of the future, 50 years forward or in 1972, and creates a day-in-the-life of a business executive in his office.

This illustration highlights the preoccupation of the radio and its technology which was an emerging technology at the time. There are elements in here are can be realised – and are available nowadays under a different guise but essentially the same, such as the radio phone with the image of his wife and child, connected via a cable to the globe. That is essentially the modern idea of video calls and the internet, which can connect us to any point on earth at any time.

This same idea of emerging technologies serving as the main concept behind the envisioning of future can be seen in popular culture as well, such as the 1997 film Gattaca, which explores the concern of biotechnology, the consequences of genetic selection and the discrimination it can present, are all valid, contemporary social issues at the time. The 1984 film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind concerns itself with environmental issues, and the toxic waste that we have produced throughout the century, including the atomic bombs and its radioactive consequences in World War Two. In the same vein therefore, our present societal concerns can also be found in the visions of our future. James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar explores the idea of a earth depleted of any natural resources and the idea that we need to find a new (and valuable) material and thus is the basic premise of the film.

There are also instances in which the past imagining of our future actually triggered product design of the future, such as the tablet from 2001: A Space Odyssey inspiring tablet technology (and most importantly, the ipad) and the communicator from Star Trek and the flip phones from the of today.

And “iPad”, as seen in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey

Comparison of the Star Trek Communicator and a BlackBerry Flip phone.

It will be truly interesting to see the future we will create in 10, 20 years time, will they address radically different ideas? Furthermore, how far from the actual future are our contemporary speculations? Only time will tell.

Reference:

Bertulocci, J. 2009, Star Trek Tech we Use Today (Almost), viewed September 5th 2012, <http://www.pcworld.com/article/164195/star_trek_tech_we_use_today_almost.html>.

2001: A Space Odyssey 1968, Film, Warner Bros, United States.

Lessons From History 2009, Visions of the Future Taken from the Past, viewed September/4 2012, <http://www.lessons-from-history.com/node/32>.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, 1984, Film, Toei Company, Japan.

Gattaca 1997, Film, Columbia Pictures, United States.

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