Jewish World Review August 13, 2001 / 24 Menachem-Av, 5761

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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When the future was "as real as a dime" -- WHEN I was a kid, the air fairly throbbed with promise of the future-- floating cars, jet pack rocket belts, video phones, the kitchen of tomorrow! The future, to steal a phrase from Dashiell Hammett, was as real as a dime. But for some reason, none of these promises of the future were kept-- well, some were, like the videophone, but the public has responded to it with lukewarm indifference.

One of the troubles with a vision of the future is that it seems like a dusty figment of the past as soon as it's thrown into the culture. Buck Rogers of the 21st Century is way 1930's. Barbarella and Star Trek are way sixties. Star Wars may make billions well into the 21st Century, but it will always scream seventies to me.

I happened to read a New York Times Magazine article devoting itself to, well, the kitchen of tomorrow among other things. The kitchen of tomorrow, it seems, will be run by a scanner, which will cook your food, buy your milk, and store your recipes. Whatever. The Magazine was about other tech breakthroughs of the 21st Century, some actual, some just foolish dreams-- talking Teddy bears, self-cutting lawns, intelligent cosmetics, crashproof cars, killproof guns, accurate weather predictors, e-books, genetic report cards, limbs that grow back, and Web-savvy wristwatches. Well, okay, but it all seemed so, well, retail, so nineties.

It's all cell phones, and DVDs-- isn't anybody working on the rocket belt any more? Even on the mundane level, the future's kind of disappointing. A guy I work with and I were talking about the new economy the other day. We were a little frustrated by our work-- the business model changed every day, the architecture at our site was extremely buggy. Though the site itself looked "cool," to use the lingo, as near as we could tell, nobody was coming to visit.

We decided that the dotcom economy was an analog to interior decoration. Every day, we change the color of the refrigerator, buy a newer, smarter stove, put in new tile, a brushed aluminum sink. It really looked great. Fit for Architectural Digest, or Martha Stewart. Sooner or later, however, you probably should cook something, don't you think? Sooner or later, you should lay in some food.

JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


08/08/01: Garage Dearth!
08/06/01: That Big Clock
08/02/01: Stop the pop!
07/31/01: Catchphrase history of the world
07/26/01: The Bride of Science
07/23/01: That java jive
07/17/01: Homogenized hegemony
07/13/01: Applying Newton's First Law of Physics to textbooks
07/10/01: The dumb and the dead

© 2001, Ian Shoales