Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Predicting the Near Future

I've been thinking a little more about predicting the future of society and technology, in between reading bills, etc., for the Maryland General Assembly at my day job. It's “crunch” time, so don't expect great coherence from me, I'm afraid! Recently I read IMMORTAL IN DEATH by J. D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts), because so many people have mentioned how good this near-future police procedural mystery series is. Police detective Eve Dallas is a strong, interesting character, so I do want to read more of these novels. I admire the way the author handles the setting, around the year 2050. Relationships and social institutions are familiar, but the technology is just advanced enough to make us aware we're not in our own time, without being jarringly far-out. No extremely Jetsons-style futuristic gadgets. (Personally, I'm still waiting for the robot maid.) There's casual mention of Eve's ultra-rich tycoon fiance making business trips off-planet, but the onstage narrative remains firmly earthbound. Speaking of culture rather than technology, who in 1950 would have predicted most of our currently predominant mores? Forward-thinking people would probably have expected racial equality (perhaps to a greater extent than we have achieved), but how many would-be prophets would expected premarital sex and open homosexuality to be acceptable to mainstream opinion but smokers to be publicly shunned? Or red meat to be viewed with suspicion? As for technology, only science fiction writers expected computers in every home, and even most of them didn't envision the compact machines we now take for granted. And in Robert Heinlein's HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL, in an imagined future when a colony exists on the Moon, his teenage hero owns a slide rule! Visionary authors have been writing about advanced reproductive technologies for decades, but what direction will these methods take us in, now that they are becoming reality? What will the mores of 2100 be like? Or even 2050? Will social laxity (as our grandparents would have viewed it) run rampant, or will we experience a backlash similar to the more restrained middle-class Victorians' reaction against what they saw as the loose lifestyles of their 18th-century grandparents?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:11 AM EST just did a big "what will life be like in 2056" special for their 50th anniversary.

    I wrote an article about it, and it's up at today! There's a link to the NewScientist articles as well as my take on how the futurists' predictions will affect courtship, love, sex and romance.