2/23/10

The Future isn't What It Used to Be

The Space Shuttle Enterprise rolls out of the ...Image via Wikipedia
Sometimes I really wish we were following Star Trek's timeline. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad we skipped out on the Eugenics Wars (or did we?), but by this time we're supposed to be sending probes to Saturn and other planets on a regular basis, sleeper ships are supposed to be commonplace and by 2012 we're supposed to have made the world's first man-made self-sustaining environment serving as a model for Martian colonies. In a short 53 years we're supposed to come up with warp drive and meet Vulcans. Before that time we're supposed to go through a nuclear World War III. We're getting closer to holodecks than to warp travel, and a manned Mars mission by 2032? Here's hoping.

When Gene Roddenberry came up with Star Trek I bet he didn't in his wildest dreams think it would become so popular and widespread. I bet he thought that by the time the 1990's came around no one would even care about the fact that he predicted a Eugenics War. But he's not the only futurist to fall into this trap. Sci-fi has a long-standing history of overshooting their predictions. 2001: A Space Odyssey most famously puts man on regular trips through space with bases on the moon and missions to Jupiter. 9 years ago we were still fussing around with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Sci-fi is supposed to be this beacon of hope for the future. Even if the story is dystopian or apocalyptic, we can still take heart in the fact that since the story exists we will prepared if it comes to that. Even stories that take place in modern times (Stargate, for instance) give us a sense of wonder for the stars and push us toward knowing all that can be known. So when reality ends up falling drastically short of our favorite stories, what happens to that wonder and that hope? It's left hanging in a void of disappointment. Our disbelief is no longer suspended and, if handled improperly, despair sets in.

I don't have the knowledge or the scientific know-how to create warp drive. I'm just a writer who gives people even more pies in the sky to look forward to. But can't we stop making 3D movies and HD 3D TVs for long enough to focus on discoveries that actually matter? In a consumer-driven world, we're focusing on petty, vapid achievements that are admittedly really cool, but ultimately meaningless. What happened to the spirit of the 50's and 60's where our heads were in the clouds and our eyes were toward the stars. The real stars. The ones that burn with nuclear fission, not the ones on TV and and the theater.

Maybe sci-fi itself is the problem Maybe it gets us so hyped up on the ideas that we never actually stop to think about practical application. I don't know. All I know is that if 2063 rolls around and we're still stuck on this rock I'm gonna be pissed.