The Future Soon Now

Laptop Magazine asks a bunch of science fiction and fantasy writers:

Which Technology Makes You Feel Like You’re Living In The Future?

Their answers (including mine) await you here. You may be surprised! Or not, since we’re all geeks who love our gadgets.

And now, for reasons that should not need any explanation whatsoever, Jonathan Coulton.

38 Comments on “The Future <strike>Soon</strike> Now”

  1. The Internet is definitely my “living in the future” place. I can keep track of the friends I’ve had from living in no fewer than four states, plus re-connect with the ones I knew way back when. And as mentioned in the article, the sheer amount of research available makes me anti-nostalgic for those days of excruciating library research on obscure topics. (Though the experience was useful in that it taught me the principles of good research.)

    Furthermore, we have a home recording studio. It took us ten years to get to this point, but now anytime it’s quiet enough, we can record— without disturbing the neighbors. (That percentage of “quiet” will go up once we have new windows.)

    Extra bonus: I’m only in my early thirties. I got in on a lot of technical stuff very early in my life and so have been able to see tons of benefits in just the stuff I use.

    Oh yeah. Do not forget medical advances. We were watching some specials on Hank Gathers, a rising star of a basketball player who died on the court twenty years ago due to heart issues— that could very likely be fixed today. Thirty years ago, bypass surgery was major and dangerous— and now it’s still major, but multiple-bypass is almost routing, and the arsenal of procedures is enormous. Given warning (which he had; he was undergoing treatment but it was apparently insufficient), cases such as his are treated today. And that’s just one improvement.

    (I will say that we do occasionally look at our tech and exclaim, “We are living in the future!” It’s worth acknowledgement.)

  2. Nobody who thinks a flying car is a good idea should be any means be allowed to have one. The ground-based versions are already piloted by speed-freak homicidal maniacs distracted by their iPhones — if I have to keep tabs on the space above and below my vehicle on top of that, I’ll have a mental breakdown.

  3. I have to agree with John Murphy@3, flying cars will either kill off anyone who wants a flying car (not to mention all the collateral damage), or they’ll be so heavily regulated they won’t seem like the future at all – they’ll just be small, cramped mass transit shuttles.

    What makes me feel like I’m living in the future is Xbox Live. I can go online and kill someone half a world away (well, my son can – if I go on Live I’m camper chow) in perfect safety.

  4. If your Storm weeps, does you Paul wail?

    I think I may be one of the few people who find what I just said funny.

  5. Playing games online on the Xbox feels like the future to me. It’s just amazing that we can have 8+ people from all over the place, all talking to each other on our tiny headsets and racing virtual cars (that look and act like the real thing). Or 4 of us in a band playing the same song and all being (mostly) in sync.

  6. Google & IMDb for me. In fact, using Google to USE IMDb from within my browser’s toolbar is even faster than going straight to imdb and having to select ‘title’. My external brain, I loves it so.

  7. The interwebs make my list, but I’ve gotten to thinking of them as part of my day-to-day living. If my connection goes down, I notice almost right away. It’s not so much a “future” thing anymore as a “right now” thing.

    So the iPod touch is the thing that actually makes me think, “Wow, the future is awesome.” Because I can lie in bed and purchase books and paint and email. Which discovery during last year’s bronchitis bout was a real boon.


    Woman signs contract with ‘Alcor Life Extension Foundation’ to keep her head cryogenically frozen until technology has the ability to bring her back. Yea, thats right. Just her head. Her body will be cremated. I’m thinking Futurama meets Vanilla sky meets Forever Young.

    I hate to send anyone into an existential breakdown but what about souls and those whatnots. Are they real and can you freeze one or does it just sit there and wait. Maybe run a few errands in the meantime. What a horrible purgatory if thats your deal. Man, I can’t wait for her to wake up.

    Anyway, HOLY KRAP, we are freezing dead people so we can bring them back to life.

  9. Almost all the handy dandy we live in future things that have been mentioned so far depend on one innovation.
    Memory and storage abilities.

    I have an 80Gig Ipod that has enough room to carry a half a dozen MST3K episodes, podcasts and currently 2500 songs with more than half the space left.

    I have 2 TERAbytes of hard drive and external memory lying around my house.
    There’s an app for that? I have room to put it on my phone with out blinking.

    My first home computer had the largest hard drive in existence at the time, 30 Meg, and that was 1987. In 1980, 1 gigabyte of memory was the size of a large microwave oven.

    I was going to say that the internet itself didn’t fall into place with my idea here but then I realized that Wikipedia probably has tons of memory in its own right.

    memory and storage, I’m telling you man, it’s the 21st Century version of “Plastics my boy, that’s the future” Apologies if I didn’t get the quote from “The Graduate” right…

  10. That Clifford Stoll article makes me feel old as I remember reading it back in ’95 when it was first published. His view was pretty contrarian back then.

    What blows me away is just the shear access to information that we have now. Being able to get instance answers to so many things from so many places with little trouble. It all goes down to Stoll’s complaint about not being able to find the date for the Battle of Trafalgar without a long bought of manual searching. Now it is literally a ten second task.

  11. It’s been mentioned up-thread, but for me the iPod touch is a ‘future now’ gadget. I’m an 80s kid and remember being amazed by the Sony Walkman. Portable! Music!

    Back then, I could not even conceive of the idea of owning a gadget that held 100X more music than a cassette and was, in fact, the size of said cassette. Being able to surf the web, read books, and play video games on the same gadget is just gravy.

  12. Jeff S@11: “memory and storage, I’m telling you man, it’s the 21st Century version of ‘Plastics my boy, that’s the future'”

    Storage is easy. If you need more, you just build more. Finding stuff is the hard part. That’s one of the major things that’s made Google so successful – they made it easier for users to find stuff on the web, and easier for advertisers to find marks.

  13. Flying cars with reasonable license requirements would not be unreasonable. There’s little inherent with VTOL (other than, for some designs, takeoff/landing engine out dead zones) which would make current pilots unsuitable for operating them. But people flying anything like many of them drive would be a short VFR flight into disaster.

    Flying cars plus very strong built in autopilot plus flightpath restrictions MIGHT be acceptable for general populace, but probably not, with current tech. Kids hotwiring their jet cars and buzzing around would be a worse risk than them just driving like dorks now.

  14. Matt @10 –

    There’s no sign that currently frozen people can be resuscitated. Freezing dead people isn’t a big deal for the future – being able to bring them back, if possible, is a big deal. Whether the current issues with ice crystals and other degradation will ever allow that is an open question. People going into Alcor are doing so on the implicit assumption that eventually the answer will be yes, but we don’t know that for a fact.

    Now, the hydrogen sulfide based metabolism freeze / death freeze technology (working for mice, not sure if it scales up to human sized large mammals yet, pig trials went badly) – if that turns out to work, *that* is pretty much magic…

  15. Google & Wikipedia on my mobile. I can’t imagine a world where I can’t look up everything from obscure Windows errors to recipes for perfect scrambled eggs (thank you, Gordon Ramsay) to the history of barbaric invasions in the first millennium AD.

    When I’ll tell my grandkids stories about my offline childhood, I’m pretty sure they’ll be looking at me funny.

  16. Using my iPhone to tap into my wireless network and talk to my Sonos music system to either dial-up one of my 3000+ albums on a book-sized external hard drive, or to select one of thousands of international radio stations to beam into my bedroom or other zone of my house.

  17. Holding a thumb drive in my hand and knowing that this little tiny stick holds 4GB of data blows my mind.

    (I really should throw out my stack of Zip drive cartridges one of these days…)

  18. Dave H. @ 16

    I’m not disagreeing, it’s easy to build more storage now, but not so much back in 1980. On the other hand, where do they put the stuff so you can find it so easily these days?
    On the gripping hand, once you find it where do you put it so you can find it again?
    The amount of cheap reliable memory out there still kicks ass.

    I will grant that P.T. Barnum would probably have a HUGE internet presence if he was around today. My spam filter is full of his honorary grandchildren’s efforts …

  19. Laur@19: Exactly. It’s being able to find the answer to so many questions, from the population of Rangoon to how to make a Brandy Alexander, in a matter of seconds. My son will grow up never knowing a world where you can’t just Google “Recipe Pad Thai” and instantly have fifteen alternatives.

  20. Smartphones and medical imaging tech. And hey, forget the flying cars already. I WANT MY ROBOT MAID.

  21. I remember the first time I used a memory typewriter. I thought “wow, this is so living in the future!” because it was like a typewriter, but also like computers. Then there was the first time I used a word processor (just a word processor, not an actual computer), and I thought how quaint the old memory typewriter was. Which was surplanted the first time I had a computer with a web browser! And all the information that I had spent hours in libraries trying to find was literally at my fingertips, and I thought how high tech it all was. Which became quaint when I got my laptop with wi-fi and I could access all that pretty much anywhere I went. And that became quaint when smart phones came on the scene and I didn’t need to lug my laptop anymore. So basically, the future has been a movable feast for me since I was about 16.

  22. Back in the early aughts, I was very impressed by wheelchair elevators on high-floor buses. It was like having a space shuttle arm suddenly emerge from something very prosaic and make lots of robot-like noises.

    Now, of course, all the buses are low-floor and wheelchairs are easily handled by ramps. Much less high tech, much less impressive.

    The point about the future is that it has to be Rube-Goldbergian. The moment it gets simple, it stops being the future.

  23. OMG yes, the robot maid! I need one of those SO badly.

    But my favorite gizmo is my eBook reader. I dont have a smart phone and don’t want to be connected 24/7, but then I don’t have a job that requires it, either.

    But my eBook reader puts me right into the future. I love it. I love the access to all the classics, I love propping it up and reading while doing something else. It’s wonderful. Yeah the new hasn’t worn off of it yet.

  24. I’ve owned turntables, 8-track players, cassette players, and CD players in my automobiles. (Ok, so I’m kidding about the turntable in the car.)

    Today I can take a 4 GB thumb drive loaded with my MP3 collection, plug it into the USB port in my car and listen to all of my music (including JoCo) on the go.

    That, my friends, is my future now moment.

  25. Skype.

    For me, I stop and sit back and think: If only my circa 1985 8-yr old self could see this now. Friends talking to each other in video chat on their very own portable personal PCs. And doing so like it’s no big deal.

    I mean, WOW! It’s like the Jetsons, but much sooner.

  26. All of the ‘living in the future’ technology that amazes the hell out of me is all twenty or thirty years old. To wit:
    1) Time Domain Reflectometry: this is the doodad you can plug one end of a piece of wire into, and it’ll tell you how far it is to the other end of the wire. I’ve been using these devices for more then ten years, and I understand how they work, and yet it still seems like fucking magic.
    2) Global Positioning Systems. Ditto.
    3) Satellite TV. Last night, here in northern Virginia, I fell asleep to the sound of a hockey game between North Dakota and Michigan Tech. When I was a kid, the TV had five channels. Now it has five hundred, giving them enough room for Michigan Tech hockey.

    …man, I love livin’ in the future.

  27. More of a tech-meta than a particular gadget: there are about five billion cell phones on the planet and about six people in every ten own at least one.

  28. I would suggest small microwave ovens, disposable contact lenses, Lasik et al, Her2/neu laboratory testing, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), Trofile laboratory testing, GPS, downloadable TV and/or movies and music (a function of the Internet and connection speeds and computer memory), and M&Ms. Because, you know, I like M&Ms.

  29. Seeing all the love everyone had for their phones made me wonder when you all had time to get any writing done. Now, what makes me feel like I’m living in the future is the possibility of having a breath test that may help diagnose lung cancer from the profile of volatile compounds you exhale.

    That and having a biomedical journal titled Small.

  30. I bought my radio-capable computer that is light enough to carry around, ready-built and able to connect to other weirdos around the world, with blue flashing lights on it – as an impulse buy from the supermarket across the road!!!!!!!!! It was that last one that slapped me in the head with futureshock.

    I had to go back to ask for the lead they left out of the box, of course.

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