Thursday, February 10, 2011

Living in the Future

You've probably heard about the video clip of the hosts of NBC's TODAY show, in January 1994, trying to figure out what this new thing called the "Internet" is. Here's an article on that topic by columnist Leonard Pitts:

Leonard Pitts

Pitts contrasts the rate of change in the present day with that of the nineteenth century by imagining the reaction of a person who went to sleep in 1850 and woke in 1900. He'd notice lots of exciting new technology, but the world wouldn't look unrecognizable. But suppose someone fell asleep in 1961 and awoke today. The difference would be orders of magnitude greater. The columnist's point: "We are experiencing greater change at a faster pace than ever before."

FUTURE SHOCK predicted something of this phenomenon, of course. Now we're living it. Pitts suggests that the only reason we don't notice is the "fish in water" syndrome; it's all around us, and we flow with it. I'm reminded of an ANALOG article I read years ago, when e-mail was still relatively new. (I can't find the paper copy I thought I had, and I don't have any useful keywords to search with; if there's an archive of old ANALOG editorials, I can't find it.) The author wrote a letter that might be sent by a contemporary woman to her parents, substituting a nonsense word for every term that would have been unknown in (I think) 1900. E.g., the sentence "When are you going to get e-mail?" replaced "e-mail" with a bit of gibberish. The result sounded like an epistle from an alien planet. The author pointed out, also, that many of the words and phrases he left alone would have been unintelligible to the people of 1900 because they were used in novel ways, e.g. "answering machine." Not to mention the strangeness, to the 1900 reader, of such things as knowing the sex of an unborn baby.

We'd hope fans of science fiction would be less unsettled by the accelerating rate of change than the general public. As Asimov mentions somewhere, "escapist" SF writers and fans were concerned about such matters as overpopulation, environmental disasters, and nuclear war long before the average person noticed those potential problems. What do you think? Does being an SF reader help one adjust to the onrushing future? Now that SF has a higher profile among the mass audience, especially SF in visual media, would most people be more adaptable to a high rate of technological and social change than earlier generations were?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

  1. If you want a very quirky insight into this, log into Baen's Bar today -- they have just changed the software, and the amount of screaming, yelling, and outright "I'm not going to put up with this change" being expressed is amusing...