Not optimistic then. Not optimistic now. Hoping I'm wrong again.
A young friend recently asked me if today’s world is as I had imagined it would be when I was her age.
She meant 45 years ago. Meaning 1976, a time when the Sony Walkman, the world's first low-cost personal cassette stereo, was still three years away and the last manned trip to the moon four years behind us.
My reflections first tended toward what I didn’t see coming — the internet, desktop computers, climate change, gay marriage, a thousand TV channels, or China sending rockets to Mars.
Then I reflected on what I foresaw that never happened: the flying cars, the Hilton on the moon, the humanoid robots, the end of toil, the Age of Aquarius.
Mostly I expected catastrophes.
Nuclear war seemed inevitable. The sea would become a lifeless cesspool. Everyone in Africa was going to die of one thing or another. Urbanization would pave the planet and replace nature with a giant machine. Everyone would love some kind of Big Brother. The world would become Hell itself.
The Year 2000 seemed as impossibly distant as 2045 seems now, a time so far that it didn’t seem worth worrying about. The new century was when “The Future” would finally arrive. Whatever was to become of civilization, it would happen by the dawn of the new millennium.
How quaint! Now 2000 is the good old days, a time before cell phones, strict airport security, global quarantines, and scorched-earth politics.
And here we are, poised about halfway between 1975 and 2045. The technology is amazing, but it’s nothing like what I expected. Those old catastrophes still threaten while new ones seem every bit as bad.
I’m no longer dreaming of flying cars and vacations on other celestial orbs. Star Trek and the Jetson life just aren’t going to happen for a long, long time.
And, frankly, I’m still having a hard time imagining good things happening.
I can only hope that my fears are as unfounded now as they were when Gerald Ford was president. I was wrong back then; I can only hope I’m still wrong.
Maybe nuclear weapons will become obsolete.
Maybe the sea won’t become a puddle of sludge.
Maybe the Big Brother of insidious corporate enticement will consume itself out of existence.
Perhaps — and here’s the best that I can hope — as California burns, Miami founders, the Midwest dries up, and a plague of virus-infected radioactive locusts descends on the District of Columbia, the reality of climate catastrophe becomes undeniable. The former deniers deny they ever denied.
Then, in a last-minute upheaval of public urge, fossil fuels become as shunned as cigarettes and the n-word. No more wars over oil, no spills in the ocean, no carcinogens in the air.
Nature becomes the new god and savior. Nay, not god, but goddess. People worship trees. They burn cash in sacrificial ceremonies. Manicured lawns are dismissed as tacky. Neighbors envy each other’s front yard meadows and wildflowers.
Time replaces stuff as status. The wealthy brag of how little they own and the naps they take in the afternoon.
A three-day, 30-hour workweek becomes standard. Month-long vacations are mandatory. Parents have time for children. Citizens have time for democracy. People seek satisfaction not in screen-time but in arts, crafts, cooking, play, education, and conversation.
GDPs decline as nations try to strive to produce less as people compete to consume less. Corporations lose their source of power. Consumption of energy spirals down. Renewables suffice to provide for our diminished needs.
People stop shooting each other.
They don’t even shout at each other. They have time to think. They agree that hate and anger are bad; peace and understanding good.
But probably not.
We’ll probably be working 80 hours a week to support our labor-saving devices and to pay rent for storage of the stuff that won’t fit in the garage. The social insanity will worsen. We’ll start a war somewhere and, if that doesn’t work, we’ll start one somewhere else. We’ll stare at our screens to watch forests burn, hurricanes swamp cities, and farmers bemoan their cracked earth. We’ll watch advertisements tell us we can always have more.
We’ll surf the web, load new apps, find new podcasts, searching in all manner, in ways not yet imagined, again and again, a thousand times, for something that isn’t happening but might.
Glenn Alan Cheney is a writer, translator, and managing editor of New London Librarium/ He can be reached at glenn@NLLibrarium.com.
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