Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where's my #@%&!*S jetpack?! Oh, wait.

We are huge fans of Threadless , the T shirt site where the community designs the shirts and votes on which ones gets produced. It has been for the last four years the only way I dress my son, who seems to be channeling some combination of Thomas Edison and H. P. Lovecraft.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about this design by John Slabyk, titled "Damn Scientists." The text is kind of hard to read, but it says: "They lied to us. This was supposed to be the future. Where is my jetpack? Where is my robot companion? Where is my dinner in pill form? Where is my hydrogen fueled automobile? Where is my nuclear powered levitating house? Where is my cure for this disease?"

It appears this shirt is going to have to be revised soon as the sci-fi future bears down on us. Witness the story in the last Food Issue of the New Yorker about "The Taste Makers" at the company Givaudan. The flavorists at Givaudan are on the verge of creating, if not dinner in pill form, then a pretty accurate version of Violet Beauregarde's Three-Course-Dinner Chewing Gum from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Robot companion? Check.
Jetpack? Working on it.
Hydrogen car? Honda has that.

Smart phones are looking more and more like tricorders from Star Trek. If you think that's a stretch, Google "Science apps for iPhone."

My point here is that the future has a way of creeping up on you. I guess when I pictured the future, I imagined a digital world, all glass and steel, and gizmos looking something like the Kindle. I just didn't envision the messy part, where the Kindle and the book were coexisting, like Cro Magnons and Neanderthals.

Maybe some far-future PhD candidate will write a thesis on the demise of the book and whether the Kindle was the death knell for books with pages and that wonderful dead-tree smell. In the meantime, I may check out Dan Wilson's Where's My Jet Pack? A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived.  Already a little outdated, perhaps (see above), but I think Wilson, a roboticist, has interesting things to say about how science and society march to different drummers and why some inventions just never catch fire. And check out Wilson's blog here, where you can find out more about the coming robot apocalypse.

You can get your own "WHERE'S MY #@%&!*S JETPACK?!" poster by Paul Sizer, DeviantArt.com.

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