When do we get to say, “The future is here!” For me, being raised as I was on science fiction and fantasy, the future was not the bright shining beacon of technology and Utopian peace that frequents the common mythology. Rather, for me, the “future” was defined by a cross of Heinlein and Bradbury in a very profound image: Dime-store robots.
Second-hand robots were a close relative of this first thought, but dime-store robots represent something fundamental about what makes the march of technology so important. It’s not just that we can build “robots” or computers or silicate replicas of cells or molecules-thick membranes or jellies that are almost lighter than air: it’s that these technologies are becoming accessible to the common man.
Remember when costume contact lenses and fangs were the signs of people who had the best resources for costuming? Now you can get all the best down at the discount store. Remember when a smartphone was actually a status symbol and not a necessity that every single person in the US had to have to function? They are so common as to be nearly disposable now, as evidenced by the fact that they are common for pay-as-you-go services. And now we can go down to the dollar store and drop maybe five bucks on a magnetized LED safety light – and five years ago or so, that same light probably was $90 at the mall.
We are now in a phase of our technological evolution where the availability of upper-class luxuries to the Everyman is coinciding with a culture-wide “early adopter” phase: We expect and demand that our services be available when and how they were promised (implied?), but the reality is that the technology we rely on isn’t anywhere near as advanced as we think it is. We’re still working out the bugs, even on the things we rely on every day.
And yet, the future is here. We’re living it every day. We carry handheld devices to access the entire history and knowledge of the human race, thousands of times faster and smarter than their predecessors even five, ten years ago. We can track anyone, hide from nothing… we talk about yearning for connection while becoming more and more connected, and we are faced with the ultimate fact of our age: In the last century, our technology outgrew our humanity, and the destruction in the name of the pursuit of that technology was devastating.
Now, our humanity is either catching up with technology, or technology has slowed down just enough to where we’re almost gaining on it. Regardless, the shiny future has slipped into the chintzy present and is already showing evidence of becoming an antiquated past.