Welcome to the world of tomorrow...today!
Whew, that went by fast.
Its already 2014, and I feel like I had just finally adjusted to writing 2013 on all my paperwork.
Was it really all that long ago that people predicted we would have luminescent clothing, flying cars and robots doing our housework?
And what about the hoverboard to replace a skateboard, since that will be a common feature of 2015, according to the movie Back to the Future Part II (there actually is one in existence, but last I heard it didnt hover if someone stood on it, making it not quite market-ready)?
Certainly there are some outlandish ideas from the past about how this year would look. But there is something of interest from a piece written by Isaac Asimov in the New York Times 50 years ago. On Aug. 16, 1964, Asimov reflected on his experience at the New York Worlds Fair that year and predicted what that fair would look like in 2014.
Although the premise of his prediction is inaccurate in itself – we no longer have Worlds Fairs – the closest thing to it comes in the form of CES, the Consumer Electronics Show held last week in Las Vegas.
The first thing Asimov points out is that men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. He certainly has a point, as more and more people seem to keep indoors, content with the conveniences of a 21st century home.
CES is a great example of how society is driven that way. Why go anywhere when theres a smart mattress that uses technology to provide the perfect nights sleep (at a measly $8,000)?
And why go buy anything when you can make it with your own 3-D printer? Even if you have to leave the house, more and more companies are coming out with the wristwatch phone idea, as made popular by Star Trek and James Bond.
Asimov also correctly predicted the advent of frozen dinners: Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semi-prepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing. But he added that even in the future, people would prepare meals by hand, especially when company is coming.
He also predicted that a lot of appliances, both in and out of the kitchen, would be battery operated and wireless. This years CES took that a step further, introducing an Internet-connected refrigerator and a washing machine that can receive text messages.
But, you think, surely Asimov had unrealistic expectations about the use of robots in everyday life! Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. He does mention that 2014 will see the advent of the robot housekeeper (a la Rosie from The Jetsons), but we already have the beginnings of that with the iRobot Roomba.
Asimov even mentions a robot brain for your car, which isnt widely used but does exist: Toyota and Volkswagen, among other car makers, have introduced autopilot cars and Google has a self-driving vehicle already on the roads.
Other startlingly accurate predictions include 2014s fascination with 3-D movies and televisions (although a thing called 4-D, or ultra-HD, is being introduced); constant technology communication using both audio and visual stimuli; an average life expectancy of 85 (the U.S. isnt quite this high yet but Japan and Singapore are at 84, according to the CIA World Factbook); and population numbers, noting the worlds population would reach 6.5 billion (its at 7.1 billion) and Boston to Washington, D.C., would be home to 40 million people (there are actually more like 50 million).
Perhaps the most sobering and powerful prediction Asimov gives is that we will become a society diseased with boredom, largely due to the fact that machines will do a lot of jobs that used to be performed by humans. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, he wrote, fearing that people wont be challenged enough, letting their machines do the work for them. Asimov calls 2014 a world of enforced leisure, believing that people at this time will be so bored that the most treasured word in the English language is work.
What can we make of this? We can laugh at some of Asimovs predictions, like how he believed humans would move into underground cities to handle the population boom, or perhaps we can simply sigh and remember the good ol days when life was simple. But there is some food for thought in it. Its so easy to get into that state of boredom he wrote about, to the extent that computers and modern conveniences help us to do more with less. On the other hand, its just as easy for us to clutter our lives with even more activities and tasks because we get them done at a faster pace.
In 2014, lets aim for balance: balance between use of technological devices and our own brains, balance in our diets, balance between work and leisure. Be inspired by someone like Isaac Asimov, a brilliant man with a profound imagination. Dream big but stay grounded. Dont feel obligated to get the latest and greatest gadget. Enjoy the moment, not worrying about getting that selfie or answering that text message right away. Embrace this year and make it one to remember, because we all know it will go by before we know it.