as i said before in this post, space – and more broadly, the future – is tres retro.
the signs and symbols of what we used to think the future would look like – embodied for me in robots, and rayguns, and rocket ships – has become somehow both more elusive, and more commonplace, more old-school and more futuristic. our ideas of the future have become incredibly immediate – the future is 6 months from now, 8 weeks from now, this weekend.
much has been made of how bad we are at imagining the future, especially when we try to imagine being happy in the future. there is, of course, the famous quotation attributed to Henry Ford, ‘if you’d asked consumers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.’ we can imagine being incrementally better off, incrementally happier, incrementally more secure. i recently found a spreadsheet i made when thinking about my graduate school debts in which i imagined how long it would take me to get to a particular salary level. according to the spreadsheet, i would only just be getting there now, 5 years after i graduated. the truth is, i passed that salary mark a couple of years ago.
if you had asked me on january 1 if i would have been sitting in the park in 80 degree weather, at 10pm on a Wednesday in April, admiring an iPad and enjoying the company of a particular someone, i would have been baffled. 80 degrees in April? an i-what? who are we talking about? when thinking about ourselves, our lives, our futures, and imagining them with any accuracy, we’re often really bad at it. but i suppose that is what makes for the sense of serendipity, the notion of fate, the belief in destiny. we couldn’t have seen it coming – but once we’re in it, it all seems so inevitable.
what interests me is how this sense of the short-term future is invading our ideas and imagery in the sci-fi space – where we build worlds and universes and timelines and realities and technology that goes beyond what we know about science, what we believe in, and what we can imagine ourselves experiencing. technology now moves so quickly that when i see an iPad it seems both miraculous and commonplace – these touch- and gesture-based, networked tablets, i’ve seen them before, on the USS Enterprise, on the Death Star, on a Firefly.
(and yes, i just spent 20 minutes trying to find an image or video of that scene where Mal is watching a capture of Kaylee and Inara in Inara’s shuttle before she leaves the Firefly, because I’m a big ol’ nerd.)
but to get back to robots… Phillips gave five different filmmakers money to make a 5 minute-movie using the same dialogue; one of them The Gift, is now embroiled in a bidding war between Warner Bros. and Fox to be made into a feature-length film. the story is set in what could be present-day Moscow, except for the robots and creepy technology.
it’s really beautifully made and i’ll be happy to see a full-length feature based on this story – i want to know more about this robot, why it grabs the box, why it throws the box in the river, why it says, ‘i’m sorry.’ i want to know why the robot is immediately suspected of foul play when in this 5 minute short it is clearly only trying to retrieve something belonging to its master. this trope – the easy suspicion against the automaton who is only ever loyal – is always a little heartbreaking to me.
but more to the point, aesthetically there is little about this image of Moscow that is not totally recognizable and contemporary, apart from the robot and some other bits and bobs of tech. we are getting better at imagining a technology-driven, slightly dystopic, future that is right on our doorsteps, mere moments away. we don’t need space ships and distant planets and centuries forward, or for that matter, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. the future keeps getting sooner, and it looks a lot like now. except for the robots.