Thursday, September 23, 2010

How will we know when we're in the future?

I have a friend who used to think it would be when cars all had gull-wing doors -- an early fan of the DeLorean, obviously. There are the other familiar signs and markers, of course -- glass-domed cities, rocket back-packs, "blasters", robots, and so on -- but for a while there it was really the car that seemed to be the key to the future, embodying it in its very shape, tail fins promising the personal flyer that was just around the corner....

I don't think anybody, not even Vannevar Bush, thought that the future would be when people walk around talking into the air and carrying on conversations with people hundreds of miles away, or thumb words into little hand-held keypads to communicate with dozens of people at a time, or routinely look up maps, menus, sales, books, or general information on small screens they carry about with them. All of which is good, definitely, and might have been even magical back when cars were only hinting at the future ... but still, it just doesn't feel like this is really the future yet, does it? Cars look fine now, in fact better in more functional ways than they did back then, but they don't seem to carry a promise anymore.

Okay, I'm just being nostalgic (and giving away my age in the process). There's still a future out there -- Moore's Law still has a way to go and we haven't even started on quantum computing yet, there's still space (again), domed cities might yet happen, nanotech, supersonic trains, and of course that crescendo of all futures, the Singularity (which should always come with Twilight Zone music attached), are all coming at us. There's still the thrilling possibility of apocalypse too, though climate change or Peak Oil doesn't have quite the cachet that Global Thermonuclear War did back in the tail fin days. And Marxists anti-capitalists can still dream of a future that isn't just Later-still Capitalism. But is it just me, or is there something lacking in the present-day future -- a vision, perhaps, a hope, even a kind of warmth?

Maybe it is just me. Who cares -- here's to the "Cars of Future Passed"!

Thanks especially to Brian Wang at NextBigFuture


  1. Are you denying Peak oil scenarios, along with global warming, m? Oil reserves are a finite resource---not sure of when they will be depleted, probably in next 50 years at least. And as supplies dry up and the crisis mounts the prices will increase--10 bucks a gallon, maybe 20 who knows--and oil execs/speculators will still rake in millions, at least until the riots start.

  2. you can make fun of the situation by referring to it as doomdayism, or apocalypse fantasies what have you, but the peak oil prognostications are pretty well established--whether it's in the next few decades or a century. Peak oil doesn't mean complete depletion either--it relates to production, refinery costs, profitability, availability of new resources, etc. Compare prices of gas compared to a decade ago for one---crude oil prices have risen exponentially over last decade (much to the benefit of speculators and texas oil trash such as Bush and his cronies). US production has been in decline for years--the US imports far more than it did 20-30 years ago. And lets not forget (as the media would have us) the recent offshore BP disaster--related to peak oil, arguably.

    There may be a Monbiot-type of alarmism to some of the peak oil types (as with global warming)...but the situation's not likely to get better w/o alternative energy, solar, wind, ethanol etc. I don't really f-ing care but current gas prices do take a lot out of a paycheck for anyone commuting more than 20-30 miles a day, w/o corresponding increases in wages, etc.

  3. Yeah, and it's looking like pretty soon we won't even have Cuba as a model for how to cope! All the more reason to look to North Korea to keep the anti-capitalists' hope alive, huh? You know, those guys with a "recoverable authoritarian tradition"?

    We mustache-twirling capitalists, on the other hand, will have to just muddle through with rising oil prices providing a source of opportunity for the alternative energy people, including nuclear.

  4. Non sequitur, m. We were discussing peak oil, not politics--but they are related (and while Im not down with Hugo Chavez, the US could at some point find itself on the brink of a....nasty regime change ala Chavez, for various reasons...including energy).

    US oil Production already peaked in the US, like in 70 or 80s. Perhaps instead of relying on your Limbaugh-like soundbites and ad homs check some data. Even with offshore drilling (probably more disasters in store) the US oil supplies are fairly meager.

    And yes the USA might move to nuclear energy. Maybe they can put reactors near earthquake faults (ala diablo) and when the quake arrives....buh bye Southern california! Not a great alternative. Solar arrays are actually doing pretty well (tho' controlled capitalists of course.).

  5. We were discussing peak oil, not politics

    Read the link again.

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  7. Conclusionary--that's the word for your faulty inference (and generalization, as usual) that thinking of peak oil implies one's a socialist. A common trait of the alarmist right. It goes something like, why he mentioned Peak Oil! So he's against capitalism. Ergo, he must be a socialist, if not personal pal of Fidel Castro. Teabag-pseudo-logic, m. First one examines the evidence, data, reports, then decide if peak oil models hold, or at least question the status of existing oil reserves. And as I said, the facts clearly show that US oil production has declined, sharply over last two decades, and that US oil reserves are impacted, probably severely. THe US has already hit Peak oil in a sense, and is dependent on imported oil. Now, you can play rightist-nihilist if you want--who the F. cares? (really the Limbaugh-code when you scratch the surface of it) But don't try to pass off yr nihilism as some political policy for the rest of us

  8. The post was about the future, J -- I'm afraid you're going to have to deal with your neurotic fixations yourself. One line to pursue, if you wanted to do anything other than rave, would be the connection between various forms of "the end is nigh" prophecy, of which "Peak Oil" is just one, and fantasies of the anti-capitalist left -- the link provided just one example.

    Or not.

  9. You're the one raving-- about futurism, the "Singularity", the great techno-utopia that awaits us. More Pollyannaish thinking, fairly typical biz major stuff. I'm the one pointing out facts, like the status of US reserves and production, which you choose to ignore. It's not "end is nigh"--it's realism (bad for bidness usually).


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