Whatever happened to the future?
Fred Pohl entitled his autobiography “The way the future was”. It is a pregnant title. Once upon a time, long ago, in the 1930’s, the 1940’s and the 1950’s people like Fred Pohl and Robert Heinlein and Don Wollheim were busy inventing the future. In those ancient times they weren’t shy about setting their stories in the far distant future of a few decades later. After all, 30 or 40 years from now is the distant future, particularly for impoverished young authors.
The odd thing about 30 or 40 years is that it both is and is not the distant future. Consider a person aged 25. They have lived about 20 years of childhood and adolescence and 5 years of active adulthood. 40 years is longer than they have lived; it represents eight times as much active adulthood as they have experienced. The person they will be when they are 65 is almost inconceivable. And yet, unless their years are cut short, they inevitably will find themselves in that misty future and will have become that inconceivable person.
As it happens I was born in the year 1935 which meant (as I realized as a teenager) that I would be of retirement age in the year 2000, that impossibly distant time when the future that the science fiction writers wrote about would have happened. It was a tantalizing thought. In due course that teenager got on with the business of life and forgot being in the future. (He didn’t stop reading science fiction though.)
In the fullness of time the decades rolled by and the year 2000 arrived. Here I am, retired and in the midst of the future, and I have to ask: Whatever happened to the future?
I suppose I should say something about the events of September 11 and its aftermath. Consider that I have said the usual which everyone else has said. I have my doubts about this “war on terrorism”. In my time I’ve heard similar rhetoric about “the war on cancer”, “the war on poverty”, and “the war on drugs”. It is quite noticeable that cancer, poverty, and drugs are still with us along with a host of other ills that have been the target of martial rhetoric. This does not inspire confidence.
In a sense the terrorist “war” is consistent with my recent doleful predictions. It seems to me manifest that the third world will not and cannot achieve the prosperity of the first world. The obstacles are too many. A natural reaction (not the only one but one of the many) is a war of the third world against the first world.
In any event I don’t mean to spend much time or thought on the subject in these pages. That is the task of the media. They are wallowing in it as is their appointed role. It is part of the future that is actually happening and not part of the one I grew up with.
Whatever happened to Gary Condit?
One of the aftermaths of the September 11 attack is that Gary Condit seems to have disappeared. For months he was the subject of intense media attention and various and sundry political hypocricies. Nowadays he wouldn’t make the front page if it were revealed that he had been a secret axe murderer. In effect he has become an unperson. That’s what happens when you have bad hair.
By the way, what is the difference between “various” and “sundry” in “various and sundry”?
I’m a stranger here, myself.
Some forty plus years ago I left my parental home to venture out into
the wide world. In the year 2000, shortly after the future happened,
I moved back full time into said parental home to take care of my
mother’s affairs. It’s a very odd feeling. Rural South Dakota hasn’t
changed much since I left. Things move at a slower pace here; people
are born, marry, live, and die but the land doesn’t change and the
ways of life bound to the land change slowly. So I am comfortable –
my prospective extended second childhood is taking place in the familiar
world of my first childhood. People remember me – I’ve only been gone
forty-five years after all. Still, it is a world noticeably lacking
in many activities and interests that I have become accustomed to.
This page was last updated October 23, 2001.