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Beaming Up into 2018 . . .

Welcome to 2018.  A new year.  Markers of change like this often come with a balance of hope and dread: some hopes turn in to reality, but many of them don’t turn out quite the way we imagined; on the “dread” side, most of what we worry about never actually happens.  There has been a mixture of hope and despair across the nation over the first year of the current President’s administration.  So we don't get exactly what we really want; neither do we get all of what we fear.  It sounds like people are lousy predictors of the future.  Maybe professional “futurists” do better.

We are nearly twenty years past the new “turn of the century.”  And there really were supposed to be flying cars, and personal jetpacks by now, based on many of the  predictions made about “the future” and its amazing technologies from when I was a child.  Some of the predictions made by many mid-20th-century “futurists,” like Alvin Toffler, actually came to pass, but many of them did not.  It sounds to me like the professional prognosticators make many mistakes, just like regular people, when it comes to imagining the future.

How about other imaginers, like TV writers?  We can’t travel at “warp factor nine” in giant “Federation” starships, but Gene Roddenberry and his Star Trek universe really nailed the mobile phone in the middle of the 1960s with their mini-walkie-talkie.  They called it a “communicator,” but it was basically a cell phone.  My original Motorola RAZR flip phone operated much like its TV counterpart.  It was so popular that Moto licensed British tech company (Binatone) to bring the design back in 2017 as the “Binatone Blade.”

Real mobile smart phones in our day can do so much more than a “communicator” was imagined to do, but the concept was spot on.  Captain Kirk never texted, figured out which emoji to use, or posted a selfie (although I’m sure he would want the publicity), but the officers of the Enterprise were lost without their mobile phones. Oops, I mean communicators!  As many people today seem to be lost without their smart phones (except that they probably won’t get kidnaped by rogue Klingons, either).

Throughout the development of the Star Trek franchise (the original series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Discovery, all of the movies, etc.)  the communicator got smaller and smaller, until it became a badge, a piece of IT jewelry, like a Fitbit or the Apple watch, bringing Dick Tracy tech to life.   We have some tech that operates like this, but it is far from commonplace.  You can actually buy a ST Next Generation “communicator badge” that is a functional WiFi device that lets you “phone home” (just to bring another science fiction media reference into play).

The current divisive political climate in the U.S. and increase of nationalism (read “fascism”) across Europe & North America is antithetical to Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision of a united Earth with no poverty, hunger, racism, classism; no need for a monetary system and plenty of leisure time to pursue personal artistic and intellectual development. 

Back on the home planet, our technological progress seems to have outstripped our social progress and you can ‘Google that” if it is not self-evident to you already.  Hmmm.  Much of our utopian vision of the world is right there with the flying cars and jet-packs that are not yet part of our lives.

So, we are back to our wobbly predictions about the future.  As much as we can enjoy speculative fiction and our imaginings of future societies, it seems the predictions are hit and miss.  Real life goes on, and human beings and our human qualities of compassion, intelligence, and care are more important than whatever technology we are using at any time.  If tech really IS more important than our humanity, then the Borg have already won.

Resistance is NOT futile, so:  be human, make mistakes, learn from them, be vulnerable, and persevere.  Use your phone in the service of Good.  Turn it off sometimes.  Stick together, and improve the world around you.  Maybe someday, we will find ourselves in a much more utopian world, a humane one; maybe even a Franciscan one!  Still minus the flying cars and jet-packs, no doubt. Peace and goodness to you; “Live long and prosper” in the New Year!

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