I’m a child of the sixties. Literally. On January 1, 1960, I was two years old. On December 31, 1969, I was twelve. I grew up watching the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, along with my Saturday morning cartoon staple, The Jestons. I missed the prime time run of Star Trek, but only because my father had the television on his favorite programs, and those tended to be Gunsmoke and Bonanza. As with most middle class people of the day, we had one television… yeah, hard to imagine, isn’t it? Only one television? One set meant Dad watched what he wanted, and we made do. Reading was one way I “made do”. Science fiction took up a lot of my time, and I read voraciously. One of the staples of my expectations growing up, drawn from my cartoon watching and sci-fi reading, was I, one day, would have my own flying car.
Another thing I fully expected, as the decade of the space age (and Vietnam) closed, were continuing missions to the Moon, a base there, and a space station along the design of the one seen in 2001, A Space Odyssey. A manned mission to Mars was certainly attainable before the end of the 20th century.
Well, that didn’t happen, either.
What has happened was missed by almost everyone in the future business.
The Internet happened.
This thing is brand new, really only about 20 years old. (the groundwork, and early systems started decades before, but the Internet as we know it really only began around 1995. Or that’s going to be my arbitrary launch date, since that’s about when I first got online. Can you say “WELCOME”? At 2400 baud?) We really don’t yet know how this creation will affect our society, but we’re beginning to see some indications. Mobile devices, broadband access, ‘cloud services’, PADDs (way to call that one, Star Trek: The Next Generation!), and even household appliances that send you an email to bring home some milk, have, in just a few years, become ubiquitous.
That happened, and almost nobody predicted it, even in the cartoons or science fiction. When I was a kid in the sixties, I thought computers would become very powerful, and hold vast storehouses of information. Those computers were always massive things, off in their own unseen vaults, and except for the doomsday stories of the machines taking over, they weren’t part of everyday life. I never expected I would own one. Certainly not more than one.
Now, the laptop I’m writing this blog on has more computing power than NASA had at it’s disposal when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon! (We should probably credit the slide-rule with getting us there, as much as anything else). Between the rapid advancement of computing power, and the availability of high-speed access in formerly remote places, the Internet has changed, and will continue to change, our society. The Jestons and Star Trek both missed that.
It’s difficult for me to imagine my life today without the Internet. Almost everything I do is somehow related, either directly or indirectly, to having that access at my fingertips. From entertainment streaming to my computer from Netflix, putting an address into my phone to get a map and directions to anyplace, Google-ing anything I need to know, the Internet is so tightly integrated into my life that losing it now would be unthinkable. And yet, during my “Space Age” years in the sixties, this capability was not on my horizon. Apparently it wasn’t on too many other horizons, either. At least none of the ones I was peeking over, down at the library.
I didn’t get my flying car and, barring some unexpected breakthrough in the science of gravity, it doesn’t look like I ever will. But I did get the Internet. Lasers, but no phasers. The Space Shuttle, but no starships. The ISS, but not the stately spinning wheel of Chesley Bonestell or Space Odyssey. Microwave ovens, but no replicators (yes, a bit of a later scifi invention, I know). Cell phones, but no wrist watch walkie-talkies (although we’re getting close!)
Of all the things I expected in my future, few actually appeared. The ones that did, however, have made much more of an impact on my life than I ever would have imagined. I love living in the future.
It makes up for not having my flying car.