Going somewhere, or just talking?

My daughter got me reading Isaac Asimov. I’ve never read much science fiction but they are pretty good. One thing about them has struck me though. If Asimov is representative of science fiction in the fifties through the seventies the view of the future from that period is very interesting.

The people in those stories are pretty much the same as they are now, and probably as they were when the stories were written. Same motivations, emotions, pathologies, etc. So he gets it right that the major change to mankind is in the technology. He (and I suspect other science fiction writers) just got the technology advances all wrong.

When you read those stories, most of the futuristic machinery is in transportation and weapons. Space travel, flying cars, phasors, etc. While cars are better built and more efficient and we have been to the moon, transportation really hasn’t advanced all that much. And guns? Well guns appear to do pretty much what they’ve always done. Just more of it. What’s really changed is personal communications, and I think that they missed that just about completely.

 Sure. Star Trek had their communications devices, but what were they? Walkie Talkies. The Internet, cell phones, personal computers. I don’t think you’ll find that ever shrinking communications technology in those stories. Even the name computer is interesting. Some people still do use them to compute, but the vast majority of people use them to communicate. We should change the name to communicators.

 So what does that mean? Probably depends on whether you’re an optimist or pessimist. It could mean that we are more concerned with communicating and connecting than those authors realized. I’ll let you look at the quality of the content on the Internet and television and decide that for yourselves. An alternative is that those people saw society as something going places, rather than a lot of talk.

I don’t know the answer but it’s an interesting question. Maybe we can learn more about what those people thought of us as a people than we can about how the future would look.

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