Are We There Yet?

When does the future arrive?
on Nov 13, 2019 · 7 comments

This past weekend I was on a hunting trip in the marshy forests of south Georgia. As I was jostling down the dirt roads on a trailer with several other hunters, I thought, “Wow, this is 2019 and here we are, doing what people have been doing for millennia.” The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that I wasn’t doing exactly what people have been doing for millennia. Yes, going hunting is as old as time, but my circumstances were quite different than those who lived just a few decades ago: I had checked into the hunt online, I had cell phone service even miles away from the nearest town, I could take pictures with my phone, and my clothes, tent, gun, and supplies were all made with materials that would sound like something from science fiction fifty years ago.

This also got me thinking: when does the future arrive? Media, entertainment, and scientists have been painting a picture of the future that almost never lines up with reality when it arrives. Have you ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey? It wasn’t meant to be a blueprint for life at the turn of the century, but I’m sure moviegoers in 1968 thought that at least some of the fantastic scenarios in that movie would come to pass when the new millennium arrived. Of course, now we know better, but we’re still captivated by visions of life in the mid- or late-21st century. The far future is fun to imagine as well but I think most people are interested in a future that will conceivably come about in their lifetimes.

One thing I have learned as I have lived through a few future “arrivals” is that technology changes while life remains relatively the same. People want to eat good food, have fun, be comfortable, indulge in carnal pleasures, and live as long as possible. This has been the human condition since creation, and this is how God designed us. There have been some seismic shifts in history, especially with the advent of industrialization and now digital technology, but life more or less continues as it always has. Futurists talk of this grand era where everyone is connected and we’re all sharing in one global consciousness and blah blah blah. The truth is that people just want to use the advanced technology available to them for their own goals and comfort. The technology inside a smartphone is mind-boggling, and people use it to take better quality selfies and upload them more quickly. This isn’t a condemnation; it’s just an observation. I grossly underuse the technology available to me, and I really don’t care. I don’t feel the need to drastically alter my life to fit into the “future” I’m supposedly living in, and neither should anyone else. If someone does want to live a futuristic life, that is all fine and dandy, but it shouldn’t be surprising when the train of humanity continues to ride on familiar tracks.

One key feature of the future is that we are less and less aware of how technology is shaping our lives, and this is not something new. What is fresh and exciting and possibly scary for one generation will be normal and indispensable for the successive generation. When we partake in age-old human customs like cooking, building, courting, hunting, and communicating, we utilize technology that would stupefy nearly all generations before us, and likewise we would be stupefied to comprehend how they managed without our current technology. Some things have evolved, such as how we spend our leisure time. Just moments ago, I saw an ad for a radio-controlled toy Ducati motorcycle. The technology involved was probably developed by NASA at some point, and now it’s in children’s toys. The internet opened up a whole new world, both good and bad. Yet at the heart of it all, we still pursue the same ends: pleasure, excitement, curiosity, stimulation, challenges. The medium changes; the endorphins don’t.

I put about as much stock in predictions of the future as I do in predictions for my fantasy football team: next to none. The future is like a tsunami that passes undetected under a boat that’s out at sea, and when the boat comes back to shore, the fisherman are shocked to see what has happened to their familiar village. We don’t realize that while we dream about it, we are actually living in it.

Mark Carver writes dark, edgy books that tackle tough spiritual issues. He is currently working on his ninth novel. Besides writing, Mark is passionate about art, tattoos, bluegrass music, and medieval architecture. After spending more than eight years in China, he now lives with his wife and three children in Atlanta, GA. You can find Mark online at and at Markcarverbooks on Facebook.
  1. but it shouldn’t be surprising when the train of humanity continues to ride on familiar tracks.
    I’ve noticed new technology arrives first in our toys and sports.

  2. Travis Perry says:

    Mark, I’ve been working on preparing a set of old science fiction short stories in the public domain for publication in a lightly re-edited form. These stories (by sci-fi author Stanley Weinbaum) look at life in outer space with a very imaginative eye. They also imagine atomic power will become widely used and will provide the power plants that move vessels into outer space. This technology still remains futuristic for us today.

    But when reading the old stories, the relationships between men and women are quite different from modern tales. The assumption that colonialism is normal and essentially good (space colonialism, but still) is quite different from a modern perspective. The language is much cleaner, the joking around a bit goofier, and there’s no hint at all that nearly full-time entertainment was going to take over the world, though there are references to “vision” as in “television” and movies–these are seen as occasional diversions instead of continual indulgences.

    Our technology hasn’t really reached much of what past science fiction predicted, but our culture has changed tremendously. The Sexual Revolution, the rise in Feminism, ubiquitous entertainment in part via the Internet, Gay rights, the rise of transgender concepts are all new things in the way we have them, to the degree we have them. Not to mention the way we use language is different–I don’t just mean we use more profanity and a pile of new slang. Sentences are also shorter. Presentations are shorter. The entire culture seems to have a shorter attention span.

    We are living in the future now, a type of one, as you noted. A type of dystopia if you ask me–but yes, numerous ordinary things of past continue on…which obscures the fact of how much has changed. Culturally, we are radically different from how the past used to be.

    • It’s interesting to think of how the ebb and flow of society will impact that, though. Like, two thousand years from now, if our kind was in space, the culture will probably be very different. It’d be difficult to say whether it would be more liberal or conservative, but the reasons and attitudes behind that future cultural viewpoint might be very surprising to us. Many social norms might form for practical reasons, rather than moral ones, for example. And it would probably go through many different variations and cycles to reach that point.

      • Travis Perry says:

        Yeah, I think some people treat what our modern culture has become as an inevitable consequence of “progress” whether that me moral, social, or technological. But the kind of changes we’ve experienced I don’t think were inevitable. And it is certainly true the future could in many ways return to the past, culturally speaking.

  3. One thing about the future is that things are simultaneously getting better and worse most of the time. Like, AI and other parts of technology might make our lives easier or better in some cases. Algorithms that pull up customized recommendations for users, for example, have helped me find lots of new songs, artists and animators. But then more and more of such algorithms are being built in ways that can compromise people’s privacy.

    And of course technology is helping people become more and more interconnected. That’s good in the sense that we can make friends we would not have otherwise made, or keep in contact with friends we would have never spoken to again because they moved away. But it also gives people more opportunities to treat each other like trash. Everyone has cruddy opinions, but of course an online forum makes it easier for people to use those opinions to tear each other apart. This controversy seems like an interesting example:

    Sometimes it seems like the internet emphasizes the worst in humanity. It’s fine that people are opinionated, or get mad, or whatever. And it’s human nature to misunderstand things or act like anything that (seems) to contradict one’s opinion is an emergency. But how our society ends up in the future will probably depend partly on how well/fairly people learn to manage their behavior in that respect.

    • notleia says:

      The thing is, despite our increasing interconnectedness, we’re also more isolated, because we treat technology as a crutch for problems that industrialized culture introduced (not to mention conspicuous consumption). The suburbs and ex-urbs leave us physically stranded from one another and from amenities, and take too many resources to build and sustain.
      Loneliness is still a big problem — even a bigger problem than it was in the past. I also have an essay about work culture and labor reforms that also ties into this, but I’ll spare you guys unless asked.

      • To an extent, especially depending on how one uses the technology. A lot of human goals don’t always go together, though. Like, we want to save money and the planet by driving less(which is greatly aided by technology) but then we also want to say tech is isolating and that online friends aren’t real enough.

        One thing Joanna Penn discusses in her self publishing podcasts are the changes that AI will bring. She says authors will probably have to double down on being human. Like, the way to compete with AI and other advancing technologies is to offer experiences the tech can’t. Personality, life story, custom made items, in person meetups…the list goes on. Things like that might become more popular as we try to adjust to the internet’s prevalence.

        As for loneliness, I have a weird relationship with that. It takes more than a lack of human presence to make me lonely, and I can easily go for ages without talking directly to anyone. But I DO get bored, because I do like people and find them interesting. Yet it’s kind of a curse in a way since the only times I feel truly lonely is when I’m at odds with others or have a reason to worry about eventual conflict. Quite frankly I’ve gotten used to feeling lonely on and off my whole life, so even if it isn’t a pleasant feeling, it’s sorta whatever.

        What I’ve had to learn, and what would probably be healthiest for people, is if they learned to be happy both by themselves and with others. Like, yes, by all means, try to have friends, look out for them and enjoy socializing. But one shouldn’t have all or even most of their happiness invested in others. People WILL let each other down, intentionally or not. Or, they may simply be unavailable or unable to meet each others needs. So it’s important to have lots of little patches of happiness that aren’t dependent on other humans.

        That said, the internet would probably be less isolating if people were less nasty to each other.

What do you think?