It's the year 2000, but where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars. I don't see any flying cars? Why? Why? Why?
-- Avery Brooks, IBM Ad
Where's the damned future shock? Alvin Toffler promised us we'd have future shock, but I don't have future shock, no, I have the Internet. Where are the rocket cars, and where the hell is the space program I was promised? When I was six years old I sat on my father's lap while men walked on the Moon; it's my first memory of the outside world. I still remember my father telling me how important it was, how it gave us hope of escaping the planet of our birth and going elsewhere. And yet ... science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle wrote once that he always knew that he would live to see the first man on the Moon; but that he'd never dreamed he'd live to see the last.
We were supposed to go places . That was the essence of the optimistic future we were promised; we'd get off this ball of rock and see the universe. But that future was a lie, because it cost too much, to afford it we'd have had to cut back on our professional sports or makeup or cruise missiles, so here we are living in the future and we don't have rocket cars or double-decker freeways or jet backpacks or real spaceships or a mission to Mars that isn't a dreadful joke of a movie, we don't have a Moonbase or orbital hotels, small bonus on the hotels because I feel really sorry for the first newlyweds who actually try to lose their virginity in zero gravity, but for the rest of us, please: the only reason the space program still exists is that people need to put up satellites so that they can beam radio shows at you for $9.95 a month, and here we are, instead of the future we were promised we have this gyp, this horrible Internet, and as pathetic as it is, just how stupid would you feel without it? Because if you squint, if you rub your eyes hard, you can at least pretend this is the future, even if it really is just 1975 with better ergonomics.
The ad we ran at the beginning is from IBM, and it goes on to argue that you don't need flying cars, because the Internet cuts down on your need to travel, and this is true, I don't need to travel as much because the Internet gives me a substitute for travel. I don't need a flying car ... I just want one. I want one, I want one, I want one. The Internet is the booby prize, what we got instead of the future we were promised. We wanted better ways to travel, rather than a way to numb the pain of staying home. If you had to choose between the Internet and the feel of Tahitian sand between your toes, or the sight of the Earth rising over the mountains of the Moon, would you really have picked the Internet? I wouldn't ... and I wish I'd been given the choice.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the workers to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
The next chance you get, on some dark clear night, go outside and take a look at the Moon. Men walked on that thing, when I was a little boy.
You can hear Daniel Keys Moran reading the above in this 1.2MB MP3 file.
The RealAudio version is at this NPR archive.
The IBM commercial with Avery Brooks quoted above can be seen at