what happened to the past’s future?

This was going to be a much longer post, where I wrote a little about the futurist books Future Shock, Megatrends and particularly The Singularity is Near and where either they or reality went wrong.

I was also going to dive into a comparison of technological progress by decade with specific examples. I’ll cut that down to a short version: the 70s were a time of background breakthroughs in electronics, whose impact wasn’t really felt until the 80s — when computers and media technology started getting personal. That all went online in the 90s. In the 2000s that jumped into the palms of our hands, and social media began demanding our attention.

But a time traveler to 2019 from 2009 — if they didn’t watch any political news(*) — might not even notice anything different. Popular fashion, music, the kinds of movies we’re watching are the same. YouTube, Twitter, Skype, Wikipedia, Netflix, Uber, AirBnB, KickStarter etc. are a decade old. None of the “next big things” of the 2000s have really arrived yet.

(*) I don’t want to write about politics now, it’s tiring and upsetting.

The interesting bit to me isn’t “futurists were wrong” but the question of why 2019 looks so much like 2009 in so many ways.

Miniaturization of electronics is unlikely to go much further than it already has — power requirements and heat are limits on computing power in a small size. So there’s not nearly as much opportunity for entirely new classes of consumer electronics the way there was in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. One could predict things like better batteries and faster networking speeds opening up a few opportunities, but not making major changes in how we do things.

We know there’s a lot of development going on in the background in various areas. Biotech, for instance. Self-driving cars and commercial drones are in not-quite-ready-for-market-but-maybe-soon phases. We’ve been getting more warnings about automation replacing more jobs, though it’s hard to tell how serious that threat is. Cellular agriculture is just starting to show up at fast-food restaurants and might make the big time soon. It’s possible that, overall, we’ve been in sort of in a 70s phase and a lot of the impact of this stuff will arrive in the 2020s.

Vanity Fair did a survey where 18-26 year olds agreed with other adults that 2010s pop music is the worst. The best music of previous decades is more accessible than ever and people tend to prefer it.

Movies and TV have arguably been mining the recent past too, at least some extent.

As for popular fashion and other trends: I wonder if social media has a sort of stabilizing and homogenizing influence. At the same time, we could be differentiating ourselves more through online persona and interactions than offline. People may also be more invested in their individual identities, meaningful affiliations and overall human solidarity than in a sort of fashion-based tribalism, though that kind of sounds like wishful thinking.

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