Dec 99

what happened to the jetpacks?

well, here it is, the late 1970s, going on y2k, and i’m beginning to wonder what ever became of the dreams of the future we used to have.

the first decade i remember rolling in was the ’80s. it was explained to me that it was a new year, a new decade – so i had to learn how to write what day it was all over again. i was but a wee child, so it made no difference to me that it was no longer the ’70s. i was too young to remember or miss disco, presidents ford and carter, the oil crisis, or the first few, funny seasons of saturday night live. i wouldn’t find out about and appreciate all that that decade had to offer until much later.

it wasn’t until i started into reading science fiction novels and stories – in middle school – that i did the math, to see how old i would be in the far-off future of the year 2000, the designated date of all future happenings, it would seem. it’ll never happen, i though, i’ll never be that old. and when i am, i’ll be jetting around in a personal jetpack with a robotic companion.

then, all of a sudden, it was 1990. i was an awkward youth, having terrible trouble in school and every other aspect of my life. (i look back now and realize, hell, everybody i knew was going through nine layers of crap every day. i’m actually lucky to have survived in as good a shape as i did.) so i liked to escape into futurist stories and perilous daydreaming with friends of how the world should have ended up – alternately utopian democracies where all humans spoke with one voice and dystopian visions of society ruled by the hyperintelligent elite (namely, us). all, of course, being facilitated by genetic alterations and medical technology far in advance of what we knew of at the time.

an english teacher once asked us all to write a short story about what the world would be like in the future – five, ten, or fifteen years ahead. i wrote about coming home from work and taking off my lead-lined overcoat and cowl, scanning the contents of my dinner with a geiger counter and relaying the days progress at work with my wife in russian. she didn’t like it.

and here it is, almost 2000 – only a year from when arthur c clarke said we would be sending manned missions to jupiter and discovering intelligent extraterrestrial life – and what have we got in the way of whiz-bang technology? where is the self-driving car that turns into a helicopter to avoid downtown traffic? where are the floating cities, the interstellar visitors, the phasers set on stun?

maybe it’s because part of me is still the middle school boy fascinated with aliens and ufos, bigfoot and the loch ness monster, but i get the feeling the future has let me down somehow.

sure, we have household robots, like the aibo and r100 – but rosie jetson they are not. certainly medical advancements can cure most any disease and the average human life expectancy has increased drastically, even since i was born, but there are yet to be cancer-curing pills or injections that will make me smarter. and if i get killed, there’s still no way to resurrect me or download the collected thoughts and memories from my brain into some kind of storage device. dammit, i don’t care if i don’t have a body, i want to live forever!

we haven’t been to the moon in more than two decades, and have yet to establish any kind of permanent settlement anywhere above the earth or even underwater. as a species, we owe it to ourselves and our grandchildren to expand beyond the 15 or so percent of the one planet we currently inhabit. all sorts of nasty things can happen in the universe, and given enough time, they all will.

but the biggest disappointment above all is that we have yet to contact or be contacted by intelligent life from another planet. heck, we can’t even all agree whether there was ever life on mars – something we should know conclusively by now, since we should alredy be living there.

but i must say, there are some things we have now that the best ’50s kitsch visions of the future could never have foretold. personal computers so small and powerful that i can carry an entire library of information in my hands. the Internet, where that library is dwarfed by the immediately accessible information of the entire planet. children now live to grow up and lead full, healthy lives that, had they been born twenty or even ten years earlier, would never have lived to see their first birthday. sure, we still haven’t got personal jetpacks, and we haven’t been contacted by a race of generous, hyperintelligent aliens, but we’re not doing too badly for ourselves.

and so, it is my new goal to live to be 200 years old, in order to see all my childhood dreams of the future come true, as well as see current trends, bleak as some of them may be, come to fruition. based on a best-fit curve of human life expectancy, i’m only allotted about 85-90 years, but i think i can finagle another 100 or so from the system.

Dec 99

operation mallrat

i was blindingly quick. with precise, almost surgical precision, i was able to, in only a half-dozen sorties to the various corners of the mall, locate and purchase christmas presents for three family members, four friends, and as many former girlfriends.

yes, i went christmas shopping. List in hand, and set on my eventual goal of emerging victorious from the entrance through which i made my first energetic strides with both my sanity and precision-shopping reputation intact, i set forth.

in all, it took me less than two hours of actual mallwalking – in part due to my above average walking speed, and also in good measure due to my List. set in stone – scribbled on a piece of note paper, anyway – i did not detract from my mission but once, in order to search ‘brookstone’ for something not already specified on the List. earlier in the week, i suffered a minor setback when i inadvertently threw out the List mark one and had to recreate it from memory. data was lost, but in all, the otherwise intact List mark two was sufficient for the task.

a few notes to anyone reading this who is putting off the trip to the mall.

first of all – don’t. if you’re waiting for the crowds to diminish, your best bet is christmas morning, which i don’t recommend. no matter how you swing it, you’ll have to wade through the aisles, waste-deep in screaming infants and harried parents with fifteen shopping bags cutting off the circulation to their left arms. suck it up – if you plan ahead and work things out in advance, you only have to make one trip.

if you’re a parent – don’t bring the children to the mall. screaming pokemon fanatics are the absolute last thing i, or any other borderline sane individual needs to deal with when laying out the last month’s salary to buy potpouri-scented breakables for the family and loved ones.

if, like me, you have difficulty tuning out background music, i would recommend aspirin before the trip, as a preventative measure to the massive headache i am now suffering. between the mall’s PA system announcing santa’s arrival every five minutes amongst muzak’d versions of mannheim steamroller’s umpteenth christmas album, each store’s own pumped-up stereo system competing with the gap’s ever-stylish a-capella rendition of ‘ave maria’, and the ubiquitous ‘dancing santa’ dolls in every shop window belting out a thirty-second loop of ‘jingle bell rock’ – it’s enough to send someone like myself into fits.

and so, as saturnalia descends upon us, and we hearken back to the bygone decadence and waste of imperial rome for the short span of a month, think on this:

what would we be doing right now if it weren’t for the three asian astrologers who stumbled into a cattle shed and gave gifts to a jewish newborn?