I’ve been thinking a lot about the future lately, much of our recent work has been an attempt to determine what forms archival management and presentation and modern scholarship could take, and what forms will resonate with people. It isn’t easy to predict the future, but it is a lot of fun. Especially when you don’t HAVE to be right, as our iterative development process allows us to change direction pretty easily.
It reminded me that fururology is a staple of science fiction writers (of which I am a big fan–no surprise there). When I read classic (Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, Robert Heinlein for example) future-based science fiction, I try to think about how they imagined the future and what parts of it they got “right” and what they missed on or didn’t see. When Isaac Asimov writes about “personal capsules” that traverse “hyperspace” to deliver information packages that can be opened only by the addressee, I think, yeah, he got email all right. It doesn’t matter that the capsules are physical objects that disgorge “cellotape” that automatically distructs, I don’t worry about that, because he got the “fast,” and “personal” part exactly right, and if the means was physical rather than electronic, that’s not really the point. (See a previous post about Henry Ford)
I’m reading a “lost” Heinlein novel called “For Us the Living” where a person from 1939 is mysteriously transported to the year 2086. While certainly not one of Heinlein’s best works, it does contain a “proto-internet.” One of the characters talks to various people on a screen (or simply leaves an order) and requests and gets clothing, information, and other things sent right to her home. Never mind that the whole thing was humanly mediated, it was Amazon, Wikipedia, and the DMV rolled into one.
As we know, the seeds of the future exist in the present. I recently visited a Boston Museum of Science exhibit called Popnology about the “…fusion of science fiction and science fact in the Museum’s newest temporary exhibition celebrating and exploring the greatest works of innovation and imagination in history.” Along with one of the actual DeLoreans from Back To The Future, there were props from movies, excerpts from science fiction writers and more about popular visions from the past of the future . In the center of the exhibit they put together a room from 1983 where everything in it (except for the ironing board) could be done with a cell phone today. (You can see a photo of this room above, or as one of the gallery photos on the home page of this blog.
In a similar vein, there is the story a few years ago in the Huffington Post that took a Radio Shack (remember Radio Shack?) sale flyer and showed how almost everything (except the radar detector) could be done with a cell phone.
As a historian I understand how the past influences the future, and in many of my current activities, I now also understand that sometimes you DO have to reinvent the wheel, just in a different way.