Thursday, January 1, 2015

Welcome to the future

A decade and a half into the 21st century, I keep waiting for the novelty to wear off, and the years to stop sounding so futuristic. But it hasn't happened yet. Part of it is surely due to the fact that plenty of science-fiction from my 80's and 90's childhood was set about a generation ahead; some of it even name-checked 2015 specifically, most famously the future timeline of the Back to the Future sequels (although I have a soft spot for the Marvel Entertainment syndicated cartoon Defenders of the Earth, where Flash Gordon and the Phantom and Mandrake the Magician and their teenage kids fight aliens in the year 2015).

Of course any comparison of the present as we find it now to the future-scape as we envisioned it long ago tends to bring out the snarky disappointment in all of us. Where are the flying cars, the personal jetpacks, the lunar colonies? We wonder why the wonders we were promised have failed to materialize on deadline.

If you'll indulge me, I'll share a quick anecdote. A few weeks ago I was talking to the little guy about what he wants to do for a living when he grows up. This changes all the time, of course, depending on his mood and whatever passing interest currently has a grip on his attention. At different times he has wanted to be a Lego designer, a marine biologist, an astronaut, or a race car driver. But on this particular afternoon he was envisioning himself as an inventor, and he had one specific goal in mind as to what he would create: jetpacks. Needless to say, I told him I thought this was a highly desirable commodity and he should follow that dream doggedly.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but it does seem a bit of a shame that at some point we come to expect advancements in technology (or society in general, any aspect, take your pick) to come from external sources. Sure, we'll donate money toward finding a cure for cancer, or pre-order some hot item to reassure the manufacturer that we exist, ready and willing to be marketed to. It's all fairly passive, though. Somebody has to be out there thinking fresh thoughts, dreaming, experimenting, trying and failing and trying again to bring forth form from the void, something new where there was nothing before. I guess that's fundamentally a childlike attitude, to resist defaulting to "I hope someone invents jetpacks for me" and instead have the brass to insist "Someday I'm going to invent jetpacks." But it's a childlike attitude that's worth preserving to any and every extent possible, I reckon.

Be the change you want to see in the world, the wise men say. Invent the jetpacks you want to fly with. If I have a single overarching resolution for the new year, it's got to be to complain less and DO more. I shouldn't expect anyone to just hand me a jetpack, metaphorically or otherwise. We each make our own tomorrow, based on the way we manage today.

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