How often do technologies that we once thought of as futuristic quickly become normal and boring? We look at how our perceptions will shape the developments of 2015.
Now it is 2015 we are officially be living in the future, at least by the standards of our childhood selves watching Back to the Future.
Here in the future, we have some pretty cool stuff. We can talk to almost anyone on Earth via a video connection that allows us to look them in the eye as we have a conversation.
We can select and download almost any book ever published more-or-less instantly, on a device small enough to fit in our pocket. We can also play games with graphics that at times look almost better than reality, in which we can team up with or take on players from around the globe.
And this is just a small selection. I haven’t even begun to mention the host of health and transport improvements we’ve seen.
Where’s the futuristic wonder?
Despite a lot of the technologies we have being so significant in our lives, we rarely seem to get that sense of wonder about the reality we find ourselves in.
We ride to work in our hybrid car or our underground train, armed with satellite-supported GPS or a tablet the thickness of a premium chocolate bar, and we consider our lives dull.
Even things that initially seem wondrous quickly lose their sheen.
When the iPad first came out it was such an exciting new product that when a friend got it on launch day a group of us took turns to hold it in hushed silence.
Now the iPad in question is dented and forgotten in a drawer and its slimmer grandchild, the iPad Air 2, is just another piece of tech.
Constant technological change
As a generation, we are pretty used to change. Growing up we saw the internet morph from the slow mishmash of enthusiast pages, dancing hamsters and pictures of Sesame Street’s Bert in the company of some of history’s most evil people into the multifaceted wonder it is now.
More importantly, we’ve seen a transformation in skills and knowledge. They used to be things you could only acquire if you happened to have access to the right people or resources, but now you only need the internet, time and bit of commitment to become a pro at almost anything.
These are impressive developments. They represent a future that is not simply a case of the same world in a shinier, more neon finish, but one that has seen a fundamental change in the way people learn and develop.
But instead of focusing on this progress, we bemoan the lack of jetpack or flying car to take us to work, and the fact we aren’t living on a space colony yet.
Context: Why the future is never futuristic enough
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons incredible technologies quickly feel normal is the context in which they exist. Successful tech quickly finds a place in our lives, shaping our realities around it.
It becomes so normal that in some cases, such as with the internet, life as we know it could not exist without it. In this process, it also becomes varied and imperfect. The version you have is slow, it’s buggy, it has an ugly interface. There are better models available, but you just can’t afford them right now.
However, when we think about technologies that could be developed in the future, they feel shiny and exciting because we are thinking about them away from their context, and in their most perfect form. An article about the future is unlikely to focus on the totally uncool, ugly model of driverless car any more than it is going to consider the surveillance tech that develops problems in the rain.
On to 2015
With 2015 upon us, we are seeing technologies that are incredibly impressive, yet somewhat disappointing because they fail to meet up to some fantasy vision. Hendo’s hoverboard, for instance, is remarkable, yet many have spent their time complaining that it would only work on a special surface and is too thick.
Similarly, incremental changes are met with indifference. They aren’t the big, wonderful shiny future so they don’t get people excited.
There are many things that will be developed or discovered over the next year that will change lives, and many of them will receive barely a flicker of recognition from the digital masses. The future is never as shiny and perfect when you get there than it seemed from afar.
But try stopping for a moment and really taking stock, because there’s far more that’s futuristic in your life than you might initially realise.
Images courtesy of Trey Ratcliffe.