Warning: Unlike every other article I’ve ever written in the past two months where seriously relaying well-documented fact was an explicit goal, this week’s essay is an attempt at humor and, like my father before me, I sometimes botch the punchline. Roll with it, okay?
Note: For those visiting for the first time, we don’t underline links here. If you see something in bold italic try clicking on it. Most of the time it will take you somewhere.
I woke up on Monday of this previous week not knowing what I was going to write. What I had on my calendar wasn’t going to happen because the research couldn’t be completed. Shove that one down a couple of weeks. I couldn’t really replace it with something scheduled for later because that research hadn’t been done, either. In my hour of need, I turned to Dave Barry.
For those who either are too young to know or too unenlightened (a long word that is meant to be insulting but you wouldn’t have known that had I not told you), Dave Barry is a humorist who wrote a syndicated column for the Miami Herald from 1983-2005. I read his column religiously through the 80s because one needed all the comic relief one could get to survive that decade. He “retired” when the McClatchey’s who own the Herald decided that there was no more news in Miami and started printing a daily comic book. Then came the 2016 election and you see where we are now. Everything is connected, primarily through secret tunnels under pizza chains. [That’s not true and you know it—satellites hovering over the pizza chains are what connects everything. That’s not true either, but someone will repeat it in a meme anyway.]
What inspired me to look into the future was a book Dave wrote some 22 years ago when, on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, he looked into the past; specifically his past but in a more general tone that reflected on pop culture and the major events from 1947 forward that are largely responsible for contemporary society being as fucked up as it is. This book is considerably different from Dave’s new book, A Field Guide to the Jewish People, which he claims isn’t nearly as racist as the title sounds because it was co-written with two Jewish people, Alan Zweibel and Adam Mansbach, who presumably wrote everything except the title since Dave’s Presbyterian. I’d tell you the name of that other book, but I’d have to get up and get it from the bathroom which is where I’ve always read Dave Barry’s material. It’s cold this morning and if I get up from my warm seat and walk to the bathroom, I’ll inevitably be followed by one dog and at least three cats who want to know why you’re just sitting there rather than feeding them.
Actually, if you have ever been a parent of a small child, you may already be familiar with Adam Mansbach’s work. If not, you need to acquaint yourself with the wonderfully appropriate children’s book, Go The Fuck To Sleep which feels as though its peering into every nursery in the world and delving into the mind of every exhausted parent of a toddler whose grandparents fed them 150 cookies and 12 cupcakes one hour before bedtime. You want to click that link, though, because the book is wonderfully narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, whose intonation of the word “fuck” has permeated our culture to the point that he is hardly known for anything else.
Alan Zweibel has written some other stuff, too, but Samuel L. Jackson didn’t narrate any of his books so, meh.
What struck me as I was reading through Dave’s 22-year-old book, is just how disappointed 2020 already is despite the fact that it’s not going to be here for at least another three weeks. If there’s a government shutdown on the 24th, who knows when 2020 will get here. We may be stuck on New Year’s Eve for a whole month or better, which might be a nice alternative to going into another presidential election year without the benefit of hip-waders. Hip-waders are one of the most underrated garments ever created, by the way. People who grew up in the country already know that because you’re issued your first pair of hip-waders along with a shovel and told to get to work in the barn about the time you first stand upright on your own. Country folk don’t waste time. The primary reason they have children is for cheap labor. [That’s not true. Country folk have children because the drug store won’t sell condoms without her Daddy’s permission. I wish that wasn’t true, either, but now that pharmacists are allowed to exercise their religious prerogative apparently the only place where condoms are plentiful is the District of Columbia where a case of Trojans is delivered to every new federal employee the moment they arrive.]
The fact is that movies from the 60s and 70s misled us into thinking that the human race was intelligent enough to advance to a point of impressive achievement with global peace, international cooperation, public space travel, and apparently no need to ever go to the restroom ever again. What those movies failed to get accurate is the fact that somewhere in 1980, the United States had a collective brain fart and thought that electing an overrated out-of-work actor as president was a good idea. We continued farting through the election of Newt Gingrich and his cache of demons, two Bushes over three terms, and whatever the fuck that thing is occupying the Oval Office currently. As a result, not only have we not progressed in the way those movies promised, we’ve regressed to the point people are actually arguing over whether or not Nazis are bad people. Didn’t our great-grandparents already fight that war? Oh, wait, we wouldn’t know because we’ve cut education funding to the point no school can afford history teachers anymore.
As we approach the end of this year and this decade, there is no reason to be happy and hopeful because we’ve already blown it. Instead, we should be angry because Tesla’s don’t fly, we’ve not eliminated hunger with little pills that taste like steak dinners, and we haven’t even started trying to cure diseases caused by contact with an alien race some 42 million lightyears away. In fact, there are a lot of reasons 2020 is doomed to be disappointing. Let’s me totally depress you with a few of the reasons why.
Missing The Boat On Transportation
For as long as I can remember, there has been a standing promise that at some point early in the 21st century we would have flying cars. Or cars driven by robots. Or possibly even cars driven by apes. The whole concept here was that this whole thing with traffic and slower-than-snails modes of transportation should have been gone by now. Sitting around at stoplights, putting on makeup and yelling at kids would be gone, not because we’d done away with makeup or kids (though we seem to be working on that last part), but because we should be zipping along through the atmosphere without such limitations. We should be flying!
This has been a prediction far too long for there to not be overwhelming disappointment with the fact that not only are we still bound to the ground, fussing over potholes and flat tires but that it still takes thirty minutes to get from one point in Indianapolis to another point just seven or eight miles away. Seriously, one could almost walk faster if there were actually enough sidewalks to facilitate walking without getting hit by all those land-bound cars.
One of the earliest such predictions I could find in my deep and maddening research through the Google archives came from artist and science fiction writer Albert Robida in 1882. Yes, you read that correctly. There were people in the 19th century who had laughable faith in our ability to escape the bonds of fear, ignorance, and this silly thing called gravity so that we could go zipping around from place to place through the air. Of course, Robida was French and a contemporary of that Jules Verne guy, so what did either of them know? He also thought stereoscopic 3D imaging, which they actually did have back in 1884 and it was quite popular, would have been the norm for over a century by now. It wasn’t and we’re still arguing over how to do the whole digital 3D thing.
There was also a prediction that if we couldn’t fly we’d at least be zipping around in giant pneumatic tubes. That prediction came as late as 1970 by David Rorvik. By that time, pneumatic tubes had been around for quite a while having been somewhat efficiently used by banks, factories, and department stores to whisk messages back and forth from one part of the building to another. I distinctly remember standing at a Sears checkout counter somewhere in the late 1960s, and watching with astonishment as the cashier put my father’s check into a metal container that was then whisked away to somewhere on the third floor of the building where it presumably bonked some poor accountant on the head as it came flying out the other end of the tube. The accountant approved the check and then put it back in the metal container, sent it back through a separate tube so it could bonk the cashier on the head. This is why no one uses checks anymore. The headaches were getting to be a bit much.
Rorvik, who has since been all about cloning and more efficient ways of making babies for when we get tired of doing it the “old fashioned” way, envisioned a 21st century where we’d simply drive to the nearest pneumatic tube station, pick a tube, and be whisked to our next location. Sure, there are dozens of problems with that idea, but we can excuse Rorvik for getting this prediction wrong. After all, he was writing in Playboy magazine at the time and was likely distracted by all the breasts he wanted to clone or something like that.
The point is that we were supposed to be traveling much further much faster by this point in time and we are so much not doing anything close to that. In fact, we’re moving in exactly the opposite direction. In 2014, the Indiana State Legislature, being one of the most backward groups of people to have ever existed since the Neanderthal inbred themselves into extinction, banned anyone from even considering developing light rail in the state (source). Heaven forbid we zip across mile after mind-numbing mile of cornfields at 200 miles per hour or faster Indiana politicians want to keep everyone moving slowly in hopes that we can eventually turn back to a time where the state was among the leaders in producing multi-ton steel vehicles that were large enough to double as tiny homes.
Not only were we supposed to be flying through the air in cars that would make George Jetson jealous by now, we were also supposed to have a helicopter in every garage, and jetpacks in place of those boring North Face backpacks that are only good for holding smelly gym clothes and those “extra” things one needs when they “unexpectedly” spend the night with a new friend they just met on the floor on this bar that had a special on bananafanabodana daiquiris. In short, by this point in human history, we were not supposed to be bound by those pesky laws of physics that keep our feet planted on the earth. We were supposed to be soaring into the heavens.
The reason we don’t have anything propelling us upward likely has to do with the fact that to do so safely and efficiently means using a fuel source other than anything petroleum-based. Why? Because fossil fuels have this nasty habit of doing unpleasant things such as polluting the earth and, oh yeah, blowing up unexpectedly. However, if we stop using fossil fuels, then all those big oil companies that so generously support environmental causes might go out of business. [I’ll pause here and drink a couple of cups of coffee while waiting for the laughter to die down from the absurdity of that statement.]
Seriously, though, why are we still using the exact same fuel source that we were when Mr. Ford first had underpaid workers push the Model T off the assembly line? Explain to me how that makes sense. Don’t try telling me that battery-powered electric cars are any better. Okay, they don’t use fossil fuels but where are we going to put all those used-up batteries in say 10 or 15 years? From where I’m sitting, that looks like exchanging one massive environmental disaster for another.
Back in the 1950s, which was one of the few points in history when we silly people thought we could do anything if we just put our collective brains to the task, there was a guy heading up Ford Motor Company’s engineering and research department who was totally sold on the concept of flying cars. He was convinced that there was a way to use something called the “ground-cushion phenomenon” that would allow vehicles of his future, which was apparently remarkably different from the future the rest of us got stuck with, to essentially glide along on a cushion of air. Imagine that! Air! His concept made it as far as the Congressional Committee on Science and Astronautics, which is something the Congress no longer has because half the people there don’t believe in science or astronauts anymore owing to the fact that astronauts are not in the Bible. Eventually, however, someone brought up the fact that air is sort of free and if cars were flying around for free then how could anyone make an unreasonable four-gazillion percent profit? That killed the project and only crazy people have talked about flying cars since. [Like the two dudes who died after strapping airplane wings to a Ford Pinto. Seriously. They apparently didn’t believe in science too terribly much, either.]
My point is, we really should have taken off on this topic by now, meaning that we shouldn’t even be walking on the ground. Our shoes should have us hovering precariously so that we no longer have to worry about stepping on those damn Legos® that are seemingly invisible until one punctures the sole of their foot on one. Our concerted lack of effort and investment behind getting cars off the ground is one of the greatest disappointments of this century. We’ve let the entire 20th century down. They had faith in us. We blew it. Every engineer should go stand in a corner until they’re ready to solve this problem.
The Unending Bafflement of Technology
“Ooh, look! It’s another meme with that white cat slapping back at a lady who clearly forgot to use water-proof mascara and could possibly wreak havoc on the whole planet if that other lady wasn’t holding her back!”
This is the culmination of modern technology. We have the wealth of the world’s history and literature right here in the palm of our hands. Chances are you are using the palm of your hand to read this article. Okay, maybe not the actual palm of your hand but the device you’re holding might as well be considered part of your anatomy given how infrequently we set them down or stop looking at them. We have all this information readily available, so why aren’t we smarter, why isn’t technology making even larger advances and doing all the things that people a century or more ago were sure we’d be able to do by now?
Simple: it’s all Tim Berner Lee’s fault. He invented the Internet and ever since then we’ve been using this wonderful global technology to look at cat memes and naked boobs. That’s it. We’re totally distracted and not a damn thing has gotten accomplished in the field of technology that doesn’t involve making it easier to share cat memes and look at boobs. That’s it. That’s where technology has taken us. Mind you, this isn’t the fault of the technology. The technology itself is wonderful and still holds a tremendous amount of potential. The problem is that we would rather look at pictures of cats and boobs than actually doing anything that solves serious problems.
Oh, we also use the Internet to yell at each other. We like to yell at each other online because there’s no way in hell that we would ever be able to get away with it in person. Someone would punch us right smack in the face and we would probably deserve it for being so loud and inappropriate in the first place. Normal social rules don’t seem to apply to the Internet because we don’t want them to apply to the internet. Spelling rules don’t seem to apply, either, because the speed at which we can post something is more important, even if said message sits in someone’s inbox for three days before they reply. At least we got it there. Reading is the other person’s responsibility.
There are other aspects of technology that are disappointing as well. The fact that we require transportation to get us from one place to the other is on par with never having gotten the Superman pajamas that were in the Sears Christmas Catalog, despite repeatedly dog-earing that page and circling the product number for more years than I really should have been looking at that section of the Sears catalog. We all know the real action was over in the lingerie department where none of the women ever wore shirts. The lack of teleportation is a disappointment on that same level.
Michael J. O’Farrell, the founder of The Mobile Institute, is the one who got my expectations high. He was certain that by 2020 we’d be zapping things and people back and forth without having to spend thirty minutes looking for the car keys that either the cat knocked off the table or the toddler kindly placed in the trash that’s now sitting out by the curb. O’Farrell saw potential there in the technology that was available. He saw what we could do. He had a vision for how humanity could benefit by bouncing around from one place on the planet to the other without having to climb over ill-conceived walls or declaring 4,326 seashells when going through customs. We should have teleportation, but yet, to date, the only teleportation that has been achieved was with a laser beam and that was all the way back in 2002, down in Australia [source].
Oh, I almost forgot, there was that time Chinese scientist teleported a proton [source]. Now, I’ll admit, there are a lot of things and more than a few people that I would happily transport out to the middle of space and leave them there. I’m pretty sure there were some laws written by Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek and therefore the authority on teleportation) that prevent that manner of cruelty. There’s also the fact that people are composed of many parts larger than protons and we remember well that Bones’ objection to teleporting was he feared all his protons not being reassembled in the right order. Technology needs to get its act together and fix this problem.
Guglielmo Marconi, the guy that invented the radio, ushering in the whole wireless technology thing, set some pretty high expectations when he predicted that wireless technology would make war “impossible” because it would be “ridiculous.” What Signor Marconi seems to have missed is the fact that politicians are “ridiculous” which makes the absence of war “impossible.” Instead, the Russians use the technology to troll and interfere with foreign elections and we let them get away with it because it lets the “ridiculous” people stay in charge.
One place that it’s probably best for technology to fail is time travel. In 1994, this really bad movie TimeCop predicted we’d all be hopping back and forth through time by now. You and I both know that even if the technology worked for a moment, it would ultimately fail. Why? Because instead of using the technology to leap forward and advanced humanity at a faster rate, we’d go back to when we were kids and introduce cat memes which would distract everyone from ever becoming the scientists and engineers who solve the problems of time travel in the first place.
Or maybe that’s exactly what happened …
Same-old Homes and Fashion
There are some other predictions that haven’t come true and probably shouldn’t. Thomas Edison famously predicted that everything, including houses and furniture, would be made out of steel by now. His concept was that we would be able to just hose down everything and keep it all sparkling clean. This brilliant concept coming from a guy who couldn’t get electricity right without stealing the technology. I have enough trouble finding a comfortable chair as it is. I can’t imagine that having them made of steel would achieve anything more than making the chair easier to fall off. I can’t imagine steel beds being all that comfy, either, though it might cut down on the non-sleeping shenanigans that occur in them.
What disappoints me, though, is that we don’t have houses that relocate themselves. Arthur C. Clarke, a British science-fiction writer/inventor/television host, came up with this idea back in 1968 in connection with improved energy sources. At the time, he said, “The house of the future would have no roots tying it to the ground. Gone would be water pipes, drains, powerlines; the autonomous home could therefore move, or be moved, to anywhere on earth at the owner’s whim.”
I know, the initial concern about such a contraption is that everyone would try to move their house to the same beachfront property in Florida, but that’s silly because Flordia is going to be completely underwater within the next 20 years so the enviable beach property is going to be somewhere just South of Atlanta, probably around Macon which isn’t currently doing anything else so it won’t be too upset to suddenly become a beach town.
Clarke envisioned seasonal mass migrations where everyone would move their houses, in unison, to more temperate environments, leaving the cold harshness of winter an unpopulated wilderness. What he failed to realize is that there are a lot of people who would do exactly the opposite simply for the reason that they have a deeply held need to not go along with the status quo. These are the same people who dye their hair purple because blonde and brunette are so boring, or wear flannel shirts in the summer because sweating profusely is the sexiest thing ever. The same people grow hot and scratchy beards on their chins while delicately and precisely shaving the top of their heads because it seems foolish that one’s entire head stays warm through natural means when there are so many sock hats one could be wearing.
Speaking of what one could be wearing, we’re not wearing anything nearly as interesting as the multicolored jumpers that were supposed to be standard by now. We’re all familiar with the outfits proposed by every future-oriented sci-fi show and movie from the 50s forward, most notably those of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) in the 90s.
The answer to this one is disappointing. I’ve seen the jumpers on the runway, but there are consistently two problems. One is that they’re boring as hell. The costumers at TNG were infinitely more creative than what I’ve seen on any runway or in any store. At least those on the TV show looked interesting. What has come down the runway is too often monochrome which is boring and unimaginative, too frequently made of Lurex or some metallic fabric so that it’s reminiscent of Barbarella, or so utilitarian that the wearer gives the impression that they’re about to go out to the garage and change the oil in the car that doesn’t fly. Your great-grandfather wore the same thing, in light blue, with a little belt around the waist that served absolutely no purpose at all because what he was really doing was slipping outside to have a smoke and a beer.
More importantly, though, the reason we are not all wearing one-piece jumpers is that no one has yet solved the problem of how to go to the bathroom without completely undressing. I understand there are a handful of very attractive and overly-sexualized people who actually enjoy wriggling out of their clothes when they have to go poop, but that scenario doesn’t work so well for most of us, especially when the reason you’re in there in the first place is that you chased those 14 road-side tacos with seven shots of tequila and if you don’t get your ass over a toilet RIGHT NOW there’s going to be an embarrassing mess for someone to clean up. I especially fail to see the efficacy of creating a jumper that zips up the back so that you have to have assistance to get out of the damn things. No one wants to be manning your damn zipper when your bowels explode.
I really had higher hopes for the fashion industry as a whole. There’s no good reason everything we wear isn’t sustainably sourced and easily recycled or repurposed. The technology has been there for at least ten years. There’s also no reason for women to still be forced to wear high heels. Those instruments of torture should have been outlawed by the 80s at the very latest. By 2020, we should have footwear readily accessible that is designed to fit the idiosyncrasies of our feet and we shouldn’t have to pay $350 for something made in horrible conditions by economic slaves in Southeast Asia.
What and where we live should have been much more efficient and cool and cheaper than they are, although I’m very happy that our houses aren’t made of glass as Smith Rairdon of the Owens-Illinois Glass Company predicted in 1958. There are too many people I don’t enjoy seeing with their clothes on, I certainly don’t want to look across the street and see them in the shower. Which, now that I’ve mentioned it, why have we not solved the problem of having to get naked to do that? I fully expected we’d be able to walk into a chamber of some kind that would steam clean both us and our clothes at the same time. If it could restyle our hair while we’re in there, that would be great.
So much of this is our own fault, though. The ideas are out there. Go to any home show in the US or particularly any London fashion show not given by someone with direct ties to the music industry and one sees fantastic ideas that never take off because we’re all still too stuck on looking like we live in the 19th century rather than the 21st. We could be living in incredibly modernized homes that not only check our heart rate and blood pressure when we walk through the door but mix and serve the appropriate cocktail to help combat both, prepare individualized meals based on our exact nutritional meals, and aren’t financially out of reach for 87 percent of Americans. Oh wait, that’s the next section. Scroll down.
Magic of Food, Health, and Welfare
Food, Health, and Welfare are lumped together here because one is totally dependent on the other two. What we eat affects our health and our ability to consume healthy foods is determined by our income which is likely to be lower if we’re too fat or get sick a lot. There have been so many predictions across these three areas that have not come true and these are some of the predictions I find most disappointing because they’re totally possible.
For example, remember that moment in Back To The Future II where Marty simply says “Fruit!” and a huge basket just lowers itself from the ceiling? Why do we not have this? How much healthier would we all be if fruits and vegetables were constantly available on demand? Okay, maybe not all fruits and vegetables should be available on demand. Brussel sprouts? I don’t think so. Stink fruit? Definitely not. They smell too much like ten-year-old boys. Still, there are plenty of choices that could be taking up some of that wasted attic space that we’re not using.
I’m also a fan of Star Trek’s food replicator. Given the way we’re mistreating the planet, we need to pretty much give up on the concept of fresh food within the next 30 years anyway. If we’re going to have to get used to artificial alternatives, they might as well come piping hot out of a device capable of perfectly replicating an endless supply of mac-and-cheese and “chicken” nuggets.
Of course, our seeming inability to feed ourselves food that is actually good for us necessitates that if we have food replicators, they need to also come with the ability to deny our requests based on a quick health scan. If we can step up to the replicator and as for a double-stuffed pizza loaded with tacos, steak, and chocolate cake, the replicator needs the ability to respond, “Dude, your heart rate is 145, your blood pressure is 187/116, and your blood glucose level is approximately that of sugar cane. Here, have a listeria-free salad courtesy of your friends at Monsanto.”
Which reminds me, Monsanto was building sample houses of the future back in 1957 that were all elevated, presumably because even back then executives at the company knew we were going to ruin the planet and not be able to actually touch the surface. Besides, we were going to have flying cars, so the ground was irrelevant.
A lot of sciency-type people predicted that we would be getting all our nutrition from specially-designed pills by now, which I’m surprised the people who run online fulfillment centers like Amazon haven’t invested in because it would mean the elimination of meal breaks and they could kill workers at an even faster rate than they do now. This would also solve the problem raised by the fact that no one under the age of 50 knows how to cook anymore. The dominant means of “preparing a meal” involves piecing together a GrubHub order so that they’re able to bring you food from five different fast food places without an extra charge. There are already children on this planet who are convinced that food just automatically appears at the front door every day at 6:00 and that the delivery driver may be their real dad.
We don’t especially like taking pills, though, and “health food” stores have done a good job of convincing us that pills and powders don’t actually work but you won’t know that until you buy this $500 plan and let it sit in the deep, dark, cavernous spaces of your kitchen shelves for 18 months, at which point you go back and purchase $300 of different pills and powders to counteract the side effects of not taking the first set of pills and powders.
The fact that our food is seriously lagging is a large part of the reason our health sucks. Of course, the fact that we in America have managed to reach the year 2020 without anything that remotely resembles a comprehensive healthcare plan doesn’t help, either. If the Netherlands, who still hasn’t figured out that shoes can be made of material other than wood, can figure out how to run a healthcare system, one might think we could do the same. Again, we’re totally blowing this 2020 thing.
Truly, predictions for healthcare from doctors in the 50s were aggressively positive. They were sure we’d have a vaccine for stupidity by now, for example. They also thought that we’d have rid the planet of bacteria-born diseases and that they’d be making house calls by having people stand in front of their television and sticking out their tongues. We have to understand that they were making these predictions from behind the fog of a five-pack-a-day cigarette habit that, they assured us, was just fine and would help us calm down a bit. Perhaps they didn’t have the best judgment.
Where we’re really lagging, though is with nanobots that were supposed to be injected into our bloodstream and completely take over our biology. Ray Kurzweil made that prediction back in 2005 and practically nothing has happened in the field since. His take is that they would improve all our biological functions at the cellular level, eliminating diseases such as cancer and even changing the way we consume food and expel waste. We wouldn’t need doctors because the nanobots would be constantly assessing our health and making the necessary changes to accommodate. No word on whether they would actually give me those six-pack abs my body is incapable of achieving. For that matter, there’s nothing in his prediction about them building muscle tissue at all. I’m sure they’d have us all healthy and good looking within no time, right?
And being good looking is important because then we would all make more money, assuming we still need money. One of the predictions of the future that is prevalent in science fiction is that no one needs money anymore. I mean, look at those unitards, where would you even put a wallet, or car keys, or used tissue when you can’t find a trash can? Notice that there are no science fiction movies where anyone is carrying a purse. There aren’t a lot of details as to how this economic equality is achieved, we just never see anyone paying for anything. That leaves the whole matter open to a lot of speculation about implanted chips connected with some life account or other spooky scenarios where one’s value is calculated according to their contribution to society, which is really tough on babies whose nanobots haven’t figured out how to control the whole poop thing.
Of course, financial equality also means the elimination of the super-rich and the much-desired occupation of coat-tail-hanger-onner. The only people who are likely to complain about that are the super-rich and 98 percent of people really don’t care about the opinions of the super-rich unless they’re fucking up our own lives in some manner. You know, like when Elon Musk makes some stupid statement about Mars that causes Neil Degrasse Tyson’s head to explode.
One thing that is very specific, however, is that by 2020 we were supposed to have eliminated poverty. Fail. If anything, we’ve only made it worse, especially in urban areas [source]. Actually, what the government has tried to do is move the “poverty line” so that it looks like there are fewer people in poverty. Never mind those people living under the bridge over there, or all those school kids who can’t afford lunch. They don’t really exist because they don’t vote, or something like that. Our elected officials also refuse to raise the minimum wage because forcing people to work multiple jobs makes it look like the economy is doing great. Hey, unemployment is at an all-time low, unless you’ve been out of work more than six months at which point you cease to exist as a statistic because you would spoil the numbers.
Seriously, shouldn’t the elimination of poverty have been more of a priority by now? Inventing flying cars is a lot more realistic when no one is having to worry about where their next meal is coming from or if they can pay the damn electric bill. This is the one area where there’s really no excuse. We have the means, we have the power, we have simply failed and I am, for one, disappointed at the entire country for not making this more of a priority in everything we do and especially the way in which we vote.
Bottom line: everyone’s lives were supposed to be so much easier and more fun and equal by 2020. Geeze, talking about letting the dream die! It’s as though the whole country has become disillusioned or something.
The Limits of Infinity and Beyond
Of course, no one back 100 years ago thought we’d still be hanging around this old planet by now. Everyone who was looking upward was sure that we were going to be racing around the stars and populating planets in a rush to see who could do the best Darth Vader impersonation.[Insert Maury Povich screaming, “You are NOT the father!”]
Where’s the warp speed? Where are the interplanetary colonies? Where is The Federation when you need them?
The reason we’re not seeing any o these great advances in space travel and exploration is because we’re still too busy paying $120,000 for a banana duct-taped to a wall [source]. Seriously? It’s probably a good thing we’re not interacting with any aliens because they’d quickly discover that we’re the stupid planet. Or maybe they already have.
Actually, there’s one person who’s trying to at least get us to Mars and that’s Elon Musk. Musk can afford to fund things like SpaceX because he has more money than the federal government thanks to those loopholes that don’t require him to pay any taxes. He’s all about getting a colony on Mars set up as soon as possible. Of course, as recently as Friday evening, Neil deGrasse Tyson was oh so gently reminding Elon that if we’re going to populate Mars and do all this running around that it might be helpful if he were to stop playing around with cars and trucks and invent warp drive. Subtle, Neil is.
Musk, the person not the scent, isn’t alone, though. An even richer billionaire, Jeff Bezos of Amazon infamy, is trying to do the whole space travel thing as well. Again, this is the advantage of having more money than god itself. Apparently, however, it takes more than money. While the two competing billionaires have enough cash between them to buy half the universe, money doesn’t necessarily buy brains and the brains they’re buying are having some difficulty overcoming annoying problems like physics. Newton must have been high on apple juice when he wrote those physics laws. They are real downers (look, it’s a bad physic joke; try to not groan).
Still, when it comes to the subject of space and interplanetary travel, we’re hitting 2020 well behind the curve that was imagined for us. As recently as 1997, which is plenty of time to have dome something constructive, Peter Leyden and Peter Schwartz predicted that we’d be on Mars by 2020. There were plenty of people before them who were sure we’d be there sooner. Yeah, it’s nice that Musk & Co. are working like gangbusters to get us there, but by his own admission Musk we’re still 7-10 years away, and that’s only if the windows on those space ships do better than the ones on that Tesla pickup (the “unbreakable” windows shattered; you can read the story here). Musk has a great and wild imagination, which is absolutely necessary for great and wonderful things to ever be done. I’m not sure I’d want to be the first person to take one of his spacesuits for a walk, though. Know what I mean?
Even if we’re not on Mars yet, we were supposed to have colonies on the moon by now. 2001: A Space Oddessy promised us that. Expectations were set! Music was composed! Computers were taught to talk! But once the Apollo program ended in 1972, the cool geeks at NASA decided that the moon wasn’t that big a deal and we needed to focus elsewhere. Even as recently as 2013, NASA’s chief was saying that any additional missions to the moon weren’t going to be made by the US [source].
That news didn’t sit well with anyone, including NASA, so now, since we’re all busy celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first two moon landings, NASA’s saying, “Haha, made you look! We’ll be back up there by 2024!” [source] Of course, that still doesn’t mean we’ll actually be setting up colonies on the moon as they did in Space Odessy. We are nothing if not abundantly cautious. We don’t want a repeat of Apollo 1, which killed the astronauts on the launch pad, or Space Shuttle Challenger, which killed a teacher, or Space Shuttle Columbia which pretty much killed the entire shuttle program. It’s one thing if there are a few bugs in the cars that we drive back and forth to our meaningless and demoralizing jobs every day—914 recalls effecting over 47.2 million vehicles in 2018. We feel much differently if our space exploration doesn’t work perfectly the first time every time.
Getting space travel and exploration perfect is only going to get more difficult. While space is a vast and amazing place, we’re walling ourselves off from it. Amazon’s super-billionaire owner of everything Jeff Bezos is apparently concerned that if we colonize the moon he’ll have to figure out a way to deliver packages up there in 24 hours or less. So, he’s making that task a little more difficult by surrounding the planet with 3,200 satellites [source].
Okay, so Bezos says that all those satellites are so everyone can have Internet access all over the world, which means that Amazon will sell more wireless devices that need universal Internet access, such as the Nintendo Switch, a device that, according to my youngest son, should have come with its own Internet Hotspot. 3,200 satellites in low orbit are going to essentially create a satellite net, making it necessary for rockets traveling outside the net to “thread the needle” in order to get past them. We’re not making this whole space travel thing any easier for ourselves!
Personally, I think we’re putting all our development power in the wrong place. There were 150 gazillion new video games created in 2019 (okay, so the real number was closer to 9,050, but that’s still about 9,000 more than necessary). That’s a lot of creative computing power spent building fictional worlds in outer space that could have been put to work building real worlds in outer space with only a slightly larger chance that one would die before completing their mission. I don’t think we’re tapping all the creative and intelligent resources that are available to us. My son should be complaining that he’s not getting a signal on his Switch as we pass Venus, not while we’re loading groceries at Kroger.
Being Satisfied With What We Have
My childhood was spent collecting these promises of something better. Now that I’m 12 months away from turning 60, I’m ready to start collecting on some of the investments made in those dreams. I fully expected us to be in a better place by now. I was looking forward to a George Jetson experience and am instead worried that my latter days are going to be more like the late actor William Holden, who was drunk, alone, and in Santa Monica when he tripped over the rug that held the room together. If we had anti-gravity shoes we wouldn’t be tripping over rugs like that. If we had homes that could move on their own, we wouldn’t be living in Santa Monica.
That last sentence may not be true. Santa Monica has grown into a lovely place where even the cockroaches spend their days playing beach volleyball. I’m guessing people who like Tommy Hilfiger fashion shows might want to stick around.
Perhaps what has happened is that the spread of zen Buddhism has tried to teach us to be satisfied with what we already have, to not constantly be wanting for something more or better. Of course, their teaching isn’t working given that we’re the most materialistic nation on the planet. Still, the concept has lodged in our brains so that we’re okay with our cars being stuck to the ground, not being able to teleport to the beach, homes that stay in one place, clothes that are boring, food that doesn’t come in pill form, and the worst healthcare system of any industrialized nation on the planet—you know, the one on which we’re still living rather than the moon. We’re comfortable not having to deal with advances in everything coming at us so fast that we need directions to know how to get out of the bed that’s floating on air every morning.
I guess I can accept slower modifications to the status quo, as long as there’s no quid pro to my quo. Look! Who thought we’d still be throwing Latin phrases like that? Every other part of me is moving slower than I would like, anyway, there’s no reason for the rest of existence to not move slow as well. That’s why sloths have become such popular animals. I’m pretty sure these young kids in their 40s regard sloths as the ultimate example for how life should be lived and, you know, they’re doing a fantastic job of emulating those ugly-to-the-point-of-being-cute creatures with dangerous claws.
I’m not kidding this time. Consider that sloths,
- Get stressed out easily
- Have a death stare that will freak you out
- Females scream when they’re ready for sex and the guys take for freaking ever to get there
- Get cold if the thermostat dips below 80
- Have a slow metabolism so there’s no way you’re making them move any faster
- Have razor-sharp claws that could kill you if the clean-up weren’t so much trouble.
What disappoints me more than anything is that we’re hitting 2020 and we’re still as far away from Peace as we ever were. When I was a kid, I was pretty sure that we’d be able to put this whole war and racism and nationalism thing behind us. I really thought the world could live as one. Then, they killed John Lennon, on this very date, December 8, and it’s been downhill since 1980. All we’ve done since then is to increase the size of the military-industrial complex a trillion times, and no, I’m not kidding this time. Well, not by much.
Maybe our inability to resolve the Peace issue first is why we are so embarrassingly lagging everywhere else. We can’t get along well enough to be flying our cars or living in space or moving our houses around. If we had flying cars, we’d likely be outfitting them with lasers and shooting each other out of the sky in fits of road rage. If we had colonies on the moon, we’d likely levy sanctions against them for not producing enough moon dust. If our houses were portable, there would be too many people who would relocate when it came time to pay local taxes or a person of color dropped their house next door. We’re that petty and racist and you know it. We elected an orange as president just to make sure we could keep our pettiness and racism alive.
As long as Peace is not the primary focus and motivation behind everything we do, everything we invent, we’re going to end up with disappointing results. If our actions are not explicitly designed to unite us then they will more certainly divide us. If the things we invent do not result in a better life for everyone, we doom our entire species.
So now, we look forward to 2050. That’s the year when climate change is supposed to either be fixed or leave our planet uninhabitable. Based on what we’ve achieved by the year 2020, you’ll forgive me if I’m not the most optimistic in my expectations. I suppose relocating to the moon might be an option, but if we’ve not taken concrete steps toward that goal in the past 50 years why would I think we’ll do any better over the course of the next 30?
I’m not making any big New Year’s Eve plans this year. I’m already disappointed even before the band doesn’t play my favorite song or miss kissing Kat at midnight. Maybe I’ll just stay home and read Dave Barry’s book about Jews.