As we move through time, we are facilitating that movement with the latest technologies. We know the faster we go, the sooner we will get to wherever we are going. And faster travel leaves less time for sightseeing as things whiz by us in a blur. We can say we are traveling to our particular future, because we are effectively moving through time. Time travel has always been the stuff of science fiction, but I submit to you that we are all capable of actual time travel, not by going to the future, but by bringing the future to us faster.
The ultimate goal for our trip through time is a Utopian reality — no war, disease, crime, pain, or hassle. How do we reach this ideal? We, as a society, would like things to be faster, cheaper, smaller, more convenient, multifunctional, easier, and available 24/7 using less power. The word “ideal” contains the word “idea.” If we can imagine something, it's very likely that someone, somewhere is working on it.
Who owns our future?
It is reasonable to ask “Are we determining our future by the things we invent, or do the things we invent determine our future?” I suggest it is more of the latter.
As we introduce more technology with specific operating rules, we ourselves are being programmed to behave a certain way. The gear we use will work only if we perform the required input manipulations flawlessly. Mobile devices have trained us in how to shrink, expand, copy, paste, print, save, transmit, receive, play, record, store, remember, shop, sell, buy, type, etc. And we are still looking for easier and faster ways of doing what we are already doing. As a result, information is coming at us at an incredible rate.
This past week, I was at an upscale hotel in downtown Washington. I was waiting in the lobby for the shuttle to take me back to the airport when I saw something that was both amusing and pathetic. There was a beautiful, wide staircase leading to the second floor. People were rushing up and down it, but right in the middle of the stairs, there was a finely dressed gentleman who looked like someone had touched him while playing a game of freeze tag. He seemed to have stopped in midstride, and the only thing moving on this man was his thumb punching in text on his mobile phone.
A lot of people were passing him on either side, but he was not moving. He had his phone hand suspended about 20 inches from his face, Statue of Liberty style, while his other hand clutched a briefcase. His neck was craned up as he stared at his phone's display. It looked so surreal, and I was determined to watch him until he moved.
After about five minutes, he dropped his phone arm and took two steps toward me. And then he looked at his phone, stopped, and began texting again, assuming the exact same position.
Klaatu barada nikto
I thought that this man was in a world of his own. After another long texting session, he took another two steps. I thought to myself, “This guy is part robot.” His program is repetitive, because his movements are identical. Eventually, he made it to the bottom of the stairs and rushed by me as if his shorts were on fire. I guessed he was about to miss a flight. Now the little device that had commanded him to stop everything was making him run like a madman to his next appointment.
I found myself asking, “Who is in charge?” I know a human was on the other end of that conversation, and it must have been someone very important. This man may have won the game of freeze tag, but he may also have missed his next appointment while trying to compete with a bigger device that was telling the pilot when to take off. And if this man had a coronary trying to catch his flight, I knew that the computer-controlled devices at the hospital would probably help save his life.
Who's the machine now?
Back to my original point: Are we being robotized by the electronics we are using to help get our jobs done? If the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night is check my email, is my behavior becoming more predictable every day? If I can't leave my home without my smartphone, my iPad, and other accessories that help direct my daily activities, am I becoming bionic (part man, part machine)? If there is a line somewhere, I must have crossed it a while ago, because now I need this stuff to function and meet all my expectations.
As to the future accelerating toward us, just ask my 88-year-old mother. This world does not make any sense to her. She says she might as well be on another planet. She is succumbing to future shock, because the technology-enabled changes hit her so hard and so fast that she just couldn't keep up.
With every new gadget utilizing converging technologies, the future is only a button click away. Keep your Google Glasses in your man purse; I don't even want to see them. If they see me, they will jump on my face and take me to places that belong to someone else's future. I'm still trying to outrun my own.