Dec 02 2017

When Something Is Called “The Future,” It Never Really Is…

Following behind my previous article about hype culture, I wanted to discuss another trend in how upcoming things are discussed. This is something that goes in well with hype culture but deserves its own little bit of discussion: that is, when someone says something is “the future.”

You will hear this one all the time in the tech scene – each time some new gimmick is announced or hits the market, someone somewhere will say “it’s the future of how we do such and such” or “this will revolutionize the way we do this or that” and almost every time, that’s never the case. Sure, the basic idea may carry over, but it’s never the be-all end-all that people claim it to be when hyping it up.

A fine example is videophone. All through the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s people were showing off prototypes as to how we would make phone calls in the future. Hell, it’s even in the film Back To The Future Part 2, when 2015 Marty McFly gets fired!

Yep. This is the future, you can’t tell me otherwise!

The funny thing is, videophone never really happened. Sure, the tech exists, and is used in special cases, but the point is it isn’t the standard to how we communicate via telephone now. Hell, we use text based systems more than voice, let alone voice+video! There are also things like Skype or FaceTime, but those just aren’t the same – Videophone was supposed to be a natural extension of the normal telephone network, whereas Skype and the like are more typical internet services. Same end result, but not the same execution, and that’s ignoring the fact that, as I said above, people only use those casually by comparison to text messages and the like!

If that’s a little too much of a stretch for you, how about Virtual Reality? Funny, it turns out just a few years into VR becoming a “big deal” it’s already being spoken of as “dying” which, hell, I could have told you that was going to happen. Oh wait, I already did that.

Yeah, it was being spoken of over the past few years as “the future of gaming” and the like, but it’s bottomed out, just as it did in the 90’s, and the 80’s… seriously, we’ve been having the same damned goofy VR headsets and the same “it’s the future” statements for over 30 years! It’s not going to happen – not in the way everyone keeps going about it, anyway.

3D films were “the future of cinema” at one time.. and another time.. and another recently, and that too died out pretty quickly.

Hell, if you want to see time and time again something being called “The Future of” whatever, watch a few episodes of The Computer Chronicles!

I told a story before about a sales person at the consumer electronics chain HHGregg who told me that all-in-one desktops were “the future of computers” when I went in to purchase a traditional desktop back in 2010. I would go back in a few months later to find the store selling normal desktop machines with not a all-in-one in sight – clearly they weren’t much of a future, now were they mister sales person?

Hell, tablets and smartphones too, their time has already seem to have come and gone – cell phones are starting to get boring to even the most tech-obsessed people (about damn time) and tablets are starting to be seen as the almost toy-like computers they really are.  Those people who would have used a tablet for media are now, at this stage, just using their phones and keeping things as simple as possible, while most creators who need anything beyond what a tablet specializes in are still using traditional computer systems to get work done.

I wonder if this guy is still around in “the future”

Granted, there are cases where “the future” does come, but that’s inevitable. It isn’t the march of progress that’s the issue here, it’s the same problem as hype culture in general. When someone claims something is “the future” all they are saying is “hey this is new and people think it’s neat so I’m making an assumption that it will be exactly what we will have in a time I cannot actually imagine.” Or, at least, something similar to that. It’s just another aspect of hype culture, when people see something as grander than it is for its time.

Let things be what they are, when they are. The idea is key, not the item itself, and even then, let it mature. There’s quite a few reasons why we still don’t have flying cars, after all!

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