That was a pretty standard representation of what we thought the future would look like. Flying cars--cool! Domestic robots--hey there, Rosey. Could you get me a snack? Giant screen picture phones, where you would see the person you were talking too.
Fast forward 40 years. Flying cars? Nope. We may need them if we don't start investing in infrastructure pretty soon. Domestic robots? Nope. Sure, we have microwaves and convection ovens and laser guided dishwashers and washer/dryers with complex microcircuitry, but we still have to cook and load and sort and clean and all that in almost the same way we did fifty years ago.
Giant screen picture phones? Maybe. . .
We have giant screen tvs. We have webcams. We have VOIP and Skype and instant messaging. We don't actually have giant screen telephones. What we do have is the insistent convergence of phones and computers.
Slate has an article today about why the new, sexy, ultra-slim MacBook disappoints. The lowdown is that right now, telephones/PDAs/Blackberrys are so powerful now, that laptops seem sadly behind. List all the things the new iPhone can do, and compare it to a computer: the computer loses. Especially when it comes to internet access:
Phone and laptop technology is converging. The iPhone and other smartphones have as much processing power as the desktop workstations of five years ago, and laptops are getting smaller and more portable. It's only natural to expect that the advances seen in laptops would come to phones, and vice versa. So, why has Apple failed to make foolproof, always-on Web access—the iPhone's killer feature—a standard component of its next generation of computers?
I found this amazing, but believable. "Phones today have as much processing power as the desdktop workstations of five years ago." Personally, I have become convince that my little RAZR--no pretention to being a "smartphone" has more computing power than NASA had when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.
The future is bound to be in smaller and integrated machinery, but we will have to change some fundamental ways of thinking. Does it bother you to throw away perfectly good CD-ROM disks, even if it's just an AOL promo? What would you do if you had a completely integrated machine--computer, phone, GPS, mp3 & video player, and the phone stopped working? Would you replace the entire thing? Or would you, as I think I would, look for a cheap phone to replace the part that isn't working?
The kidlets' school has a tech program that requires laptops for the students from 7-9th grades, and possibly longer. They sent out a survey to gauge the effectiveness of the program. It's a great program in my view--education comes first, and the computer is used as a powerful tool to support the learning. But why is homework still assigned in huge textbooks? Why do kids have to carry enormous backpacks, plus laptops, plus instruments, plus athletic gear? At least the homework should be available online or by some storage device, right?
Maybe, by the time my kids graduate from high school, they will do all their homework on something about the size of the iPhone.
Take that, Jetsons.