For the Week of January 17, 2005
I turned 50 this week.
What was the future has become the present. What I thought of as the present is now, often, the past.
I don't mention this looking for gifts, or sympathy, or even e-mail "atta-boys."
I was born at the heart of the Baby Boom, so this week means the boom has officially gone over the hill. This is not my point either.
My point is about the future. The future isn't all it was cracked up to be. I have no robotic assistant, no jet car, no zero-gravity toilet. Man remains stuck on this rock, as stupid as he was when I came to it. In many ways we've seen no progress at all.
On the other hand my mom is in town for my birthday, from California. And my wife's parents are both still healthy and happy.
When I was born property and leisure were the marks of prosperity. Those with money had bigger homes, and cars, and boats than those with none. They had time off to enjoy them, too.
Today time itself is the mark of wealth, time on the Earth, to work or to play. Those in the global rich (and most Americans fall in this category) can expect to live nearly twice as long as those in the global poor (which is most people). I should still have a lot of future ahead of me.
The focus of medicine has shifted in my time from surgery and skill to chemicals and maintenance. Everyone is taking something, many more than one something. In my own family alone we have 8 monthly prescriptions to fill, and we're sold optional medicines with a fervor that would make the 19th century blush - pills for hair loss, for sex, or to just make us thinner. It's patent medicine days all over again.
Of course there is this medium we're using now. Computers had yet to be networked in 1955. They were giant machines hidden in sterile rooms with raised floors. Even as late as the mid-1970s, I took my first programming class on punch cards, submitting them through a window for a PDP-8 to process, getting print-outs at another window. Today it's all instantly accessible, 24/7, if you know how to Google for it.
One of my best memories growing up came when I was 10, and a transistor salesman came by my dad's TV repair shop. He pulled what looked like metal bugs out of a paper bag, muttering about "pnp silicon" and "pnp germanium." They had plugs for legs, and when you opened one up with a wire cutter you saw nothing but dust. Yet they could do just what tubes did, and more reliably.
I was enthralled. At the time my job involved sorting the replacement tubes that were the staple of our work, and reading the colored ribbons on the resistors, the gold or silver at the end showing whether they came within 5% or 10% of the tolerance specified. We would bypass bad connections with solder, the irons leaving a metallic smell in the air as the lead bubbled.
That began a 20-year journey during which growing numbers of men (and boys) felt they could physically touch, and change, the path of technology. We built testing machines from kits, then circuit boards, finally our own computers. This continued until Apple transformed them, at a stroke, into what they are today, passive combinations of TV, typewriter and tape recorder, seldom opened, only replaced before they go obsolete.
When my daughter was very small I had her "review" kids' software. I would load a floppy or a CD-ROM while she played on the floor. Then I would bring her up to my lap and let her have at it. Sometimes the screen would go dark and I would say, "Don't worry. Understand that this is just poor, unreliable 20th century technology. In your time things will be better." And so now, as a teenager, she spends her free time on her Windows ME machine, flying around the Internet reading stories from Japan. If she keeps her anti-virals up it never gets sick.
TV isolated the family I grew up in, but reading - often on a screen - isolates this family just as much. We're all quiet, all in our rooms most evenings. John plays CD games, Robin reads on the Internet, my wife Jenni still loves books, and I search for stories to write about the next day. All while this old house seems to fall down around our ears. We're not physical people.
Is it enough to live in your mind, having grown up seeing the world through a tube? I can't answer that. It is what it is.
Of course I'm still ambitious. I'm as hungry for success as I've ever been. But in some ways I feel I've found it. I'm happy with what I have written, anxious to write more, and while it would be nice to have a bigger audience, to be on the other side of the TV screen, it's no longer necessary.
And for now, I'm still more interested in tomorrow than yesterday. It's the best birthday present I could imagine.
What mobile device will we settle on? What will that client do, and what will our wireless network do in response? Will our children attain some of the wisdom that has eluded us, and what will they teach us? Will devices and measurement begin taking the place of chemicals in tomorrow's medical arsenal? And will we ever find a way to get mankind off this rock, in my lifetime?
Stay tuned. And stay well. It's become my personal mantra, one I offer to you. Stay engaged, and do what you can to stay healthy, alert, and active, for as long as you possibly can. Because we should all all want to see what's around the next bend.
It's the future.
I urge everyone who reads A-Clue.Com over to Mooreslore to enjoy my ongoing online novel, The Chinese Century. I hope it's as much fun to read as it has been to write.
In partnership with ZDNet, I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source .
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout , a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
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