These days we live in the unimagined future – a twenty-first century of micro-tech miracles that only Arthur C. Clarke actually predicted.
We don’t have universal flying cars, or interplanetary passenger rockets, or moon bases, or any of the things we were supposed to. What we do have is even more wonderful – gadgetry that lets us communicate anywhere, with anyone. Phones with more computing grunt than NASA’s mainframes during the Apollo programme. The social impact is being felt in all fields of endeavour, not least of them the entertainment business.
And yet I cannot help lamenting the future we lost.
Does anybody remember the Six Million Dollar Man? Seventies sci-fi TV about an astronaut rebuilt with uber-tech after an air crash. You knew when he was invoking his powers because he’d drop into slow-mo, backgrounded by annoying ‘bip-bip-bip’ noises and Oliver Nelson’s soundtrack (yes, that Oliver Nelson – the guy that wrote the best jazz album ever made, The Blues and the Abstract Truth…sigh….)
Wonderfully lampooned by Spike Milligan, and perhaps rightly so – the whole thing was, after all, very silly. Not least because you don’t just use legs and an arm to lift weights. (‘I’m sorry, Mr Austin, it’s not an extra bionic bit, it’s a hernia.”) The plots devolved to secret agent stuff, or plain silliness where the bionics became brute-force answers to problems that had simpler solutions. It hasn’t aged well.
Still, it summed up the optimism of the day. In 1973, when the pilot aired, humanity had just been to the Moon. Our future was a heroic, optimistic future of big engineering answers. Got an astronaut mangled in an accident? No problem – we can rebuild him. Things that worry us now didn’t enter into the calculation – I mean, the bionics were nuclear powered.
It’s this optimism – call it naïve, wide-eyed, sure – that we’ve lost. Swallowed by a wave of cynicism, cost realities, the collision between dreams and the immutable laws of physics.
Sure, today’s world of small-scale tech is wonderful. But I can’t help lamenting that lost age when we dreamed big and had every expectation that those dreams would come true. I lament it not because we missed out on those wonders – but because, when we found we couldn’t do them, we lost that sense of hope, too.
That’s what I miss. We need it. What do you figure?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013