This writeup is an attempt to atone for all the depressing crap I tend to put in my daylogs.
I realize that as I age and grow more and more distant from the formative days of my youth, there is one thing that in fact becomes more pleasing to me.
This is because my ideas of How The World Works In Real Life were formed (as they were for most or all of us, I presume) around my teenage years. I read a great deal of science fiction in those times, as I still do, and as a result I brought with me into my middle age a strong set of contrasting impressions. On the one hand, there were those concepts, devices, technologies and worldviews that were firmly grounded in the reality of my teenage years. Just like everyone (well, almost everyone, those who aren't delusional) has, I ended up with a fairly firm grasp of 'reality' and its accoutrements.
On the other side, I also had a very well-developed sense of 'things that aren't yet possible but would be so damn cool.' Thank Sci-fi for this, I presume. This was (and is) a list of things that the world had, so far, flatly refused to give me, but which would (if I could just get hold of them) make my life ever so much more sweet. Even if I didn't personally have them, their mere existence would improve my lot in life.
This node is for Those Things which, as I get older, science and technology have seen fit to gift me from the 'Sci-Fi' list, which I can now firmly place on the 'got it!' list. I realize that the things on this list will vary for everybody, but I offer my list here as a sort of 'context' for those younger (and older) than I - the ways in which I have watched the world change.
Star Trek had little handheld boxes which could not only talk to each other anywhere on a planet but could talk to a starship in orbit around the planet. This was PFM even though radio was a well-understood technology when I was a teenager. Well, solved. Everybody, and I mean everybody in the developed world (and many in the not-so-developed world) carry around small devices in their pockets which will theoretically (and usually in practice) let them talk to anyone else on the planet who has one, or is sitting near a landline. Amazing. And although it's not necessary, because we have infrastructure to supersede it in most parts of the world, if you want one that talks to orbit all it takes is money. Not even all that much money.
Computers were always a part of my life, so the mere fact of them isn't sci-fi. Nope. But the power and the uses to which we put them now? Pure fiction from my kidhood. I mean, let's be clear - my first computer, received for my barmitzvah and which cost A Lot Of Money back then, was an Apple //+ (for those of you not from then, that's read 'Apple Two Plus'). It sported the amazing technology of a one megahertz processor and sixty-four K of RAM. That's right; 64 whole K. Which was a lot, and only achievable by adding a 16K expansion card, which measured some three by six inches into the machine!
Television shows and movies had computers sitting on desks, computers the size of closets, computers the size of rooms. Nowadays, we surely have all of those - but the computer sitting on my desk has thousands or millions of times the power of the computers taking up whole rooms of my youth. Back then we thought of computers as very complex calculators; now, they're embedded in so many parts of a modern technocentric lifestyle that it's crazy. Hell, my car is nearly ten years old, but it has more computer power than my first computer by a factor of tens of thousands. Today's cars? Nuts. When my cellular phone has thousands of times the computer power of the original Space Shuttle, it's time to realize that I live in science fiction of my youth.
Sure, in many ways Big Science has failed me. We don't have warp drives. We don't have clean fusion power. We don't have really effective genegineering at the macro (read: fun) scale. But looked at things another way, the reverse is true. While we may not have fusion yet, have you read the actual description of the National Ignition Facility? Get real. That thing is unimaginable as an actual device, in terms of its precision and its complexity, using the science of my youth. Well, okay, it might have been imaginable but it sure was science fiction. Okay, we can't get retrofitted tails, but we've sequenced the genome of humankind. We can cure diseases of the gene. We can detect problems by looking at an organism's DNA coding, not just by doing basic chemistry in beakers. Yep, science fiction.
Hell, back then, lasers were cool just being lasers! Now? Lasers are in everything, from your television to your Blu-Ray player to your pocket golf rangefinder. We use lasers to refrigerate things, for the love of all that's rational. Science frigging fiction.
Sure, we're not The Jetsons. I don't have a Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle, nor a robot maid, nor a...hey, wait a minute. I have a robotic vacuum cleaner. I don't have an autochef, this is quite true. But I have a personal exercise treadmill, which is basically the thing George loses his footing on while walking Astro, no? I have, in my relatively low-tech apartment, no less than three network technologies in constant use - four if you count my cell phone, but I don't because the infrastructure isn't in my home. I have Wi-Fi, which is complete science fiction for me. Computers? Networked to each other? At what speed? Over the air? Without even a dongle? Magic. I have Ethernet, and Gigabit Ethernet at that. I have coaxial networking bringing the Internet into my house. Good lord, I do live in the future.
I found myself sitting here, today, wondering if I needed to get some more storage for my home systems. Not wanted to, needed to. I was trying to decide if I could get away with a 750GB drive, or if I needed the 1.5 terabyte system. Good grief. I'm debating whether I have real need to add a frigging terabyte of data storage to my home appliances. Science fiction. My first computer, again? I was a serious macher when I got a 5 megabyte hard drive for it. (Ahh, Rana Systems, nostalgia).
TenMinJoe caught me out for fair by noting that I had gone this whole writeup without mentioning the Internet that it's being written, stored and published on. Oh right, to breathe I need air...heh. The actual message: "re May 9, 2009: Also - it amuses me that you posted this 'isn't technology cool' writeup on the INTERNET without mentioning how we have the GODDAMN INTERNET NOW, which is super-amazing."
True. Very true.
Here's one of the few areas where I usually don't feel all that scifi unless I think about it fairly hard. I mean, every means of transportation available (with one or two exceptions) now was available to me in my youth, and those exceptions aren't ones I think I've taken more than once, so they're not really in 'everyday use' for me. Hell, I drive a car that's as old as I am, and it still does the same basic job as every other car on the road (albeit more stylishly than most, I must say).
On the other hand? Yeah. While from a passenger standpoint jet travel has gotten much much worse (less comfortable, more inconvenient, etc.) from another viewpoint I am living in the future. Jet travel has gotten cheap and pervasive. It's no longer the province of the excessively well-heeled alone; it's available to a much wider section of society and a much wider range of locations. The jets themselves, while failing to provide hypersonic travel have become impressive pieces of efficiency and capacity engineering. I will admit that air transport is one of the few areas in which I feel we've started to backslide, with the loss of the Concorde and Tu-144 - the death of the SST.
But I have stood in an Airbus A380 and been struck a little dumb comparing it to the ubiquitous Boeing 727s of my youth.
And while I may not be fortunate enough to live there, there is a place where the future is in use every day. On top of that, what we knew as 'train' when I was growing up has grown up too.
Walking around the streets of New York City, in one day I see too many hybrid cars to count, as well as natural gas vehicles, pure electrics, and (I checked) one prototype hydraulic hybrid truck. Although the internal combustion engine is alive and well and in command, its use has evolved way past my youth.
We've had civilian space tourists already, and while the elegant floating colonies and hotels of Gerard K. O'Neill haven't materialized, there is a semi-permanent inhabited installation in low orbit. Its occupants blog, and Twitter, and generally try to serve as the little kids in all of us when they film experiments in zero-g using M&Ms, water, balloons and the like and YouTube it up. Amidst all this, Virgin Galactic and Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites are steadily closer to launching SpaceShipTwo, and SpaceX is sending up payloads (as a purely private company) with flight profiles you certainly would have had to be a government to achieve when I was a kid. Heck, they're bidding on resupply contracts for the ISS.
I have to say, although my life is full of things I want and will never have, I remain continually astonished day by day at the things I was promised or even never thought of that have been delivered unto my world.
One last major point: my formative years involved much darker uses and visions of technology as well. Many were convinced that there was a good chance there wouldn't be a tomorrow to enjoy.
I love living in the future.