Yesterday I wrote about a day in the life of a futurist like me. At the post’s end I wonder about the most futuristic parts of the day, and the least.
As I worked on that post, off and on during the day, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something. This morning I wanted to pick that intuition up. Namely, it’s the way daily life in 2017 is still a very 20th-century endeavor, at least seen during that same day in the life.
I’m fond of David Edgerston’s phrase “the shock of the old.” That’s from his 2007 book, where he gleefully points out the persistent of older, legacy tech during times we assume are more advanced. One good example is the widespread use of horses and donkeys for transport during WWII, a conflict universally described as one driven by machines.
Edgerton came to mind yesterday as I drove an automobile largely unchanged since the 1980s over mid-20th-century roads (and in medieval traffic, i.e., Boston). Intermittent cell phone service knocked me out of the 21st century repeatedly, both outside (Vermont, New Hampshire) and in certain locations within buildings. I ate trail mix and chips recognizable from the Cold War era. Dashboard radio crackled news and music much like it did when I was a child (born 1967).
I checked out a physical book from a century-old library, then deposited a physical check to a bank with human tellers.
The two airports I used, Boston Logan and Reagan National, acted in most ways as though it were 1985. Cockpits largely invisible to mere passengers are more automated, yes, and service is worse. But we’re still flying jets (mostly) along familiar flight paths, taking off from and landing on well laid runways. TVs blared their form of mock-journalism – now that content has changed, by declining, and the format has mutated, by being more crowded, but the presentation technology remains. People still stared at the mounted, public screens.
This morning I walked across downtown DC to a meeting, and thought a time traveler from 1980 would largely feel at home. There are new models of cars, but they’re mostly tweaks on Detroit’s old patterns (very few Teslas visible), and they still halt and fume through the old streets. People still walk, or push strollers. Helicopters and airplanes occasionally move overhead. There aren’t any jetpacks, slidewalks, personal helicopters, teleportation booths, suicide booths, or flying cars. No Segues appeared. Smartphones are the major difference, and they are actually not too visible.
In today’s meeting an audience sits on chairs in rows, listening to speakers speaking from a podium.
And so on. You get the idea. It is vital for futurists – i.e., anyone thinking of what’s to come – to always bear in mind the past’s firm grip. While we rightly identify possible changes and new arrivals, we can’t lose sight of what persists.
(previous old-shock posts: on tv ads, on election news; on the new Star Wars movie’s fiercely retro nature)