Thursday, July 08, 2004

Chapter 1 - July 8, 2004

Whatever happened to the future?

When I was a small boy I went to Disneyland and marvelled at the exhibits in Tomorrowland that showed the great things we would have in the year 2000 like picture phones, trips to the moon and sleek cars that flew instead of rolled. In the many ensuing years there have been many great things discovered, and we now live in a time where we take certain marvels for granted. Last week when I was in Florida we went to the Disney theme parks and found that in many of the attractions showing the progress of technology, they had pretty much run out of future. In the ride through the giant dome in Epcot they show mankind progressing from cave art to the Internet, but nothing much past that to look forward to. Pretty much the same story in Tomorrowland, which was mostly Todayland. Is this a failure of imagination, or have we pretty much accomplished everything that could be done by the human race? I suspect the former, but it's not an easy answer. We could have probably gone to Mars for the money we spent "liberating" Iraq, but the space program seems to be in perpetual neutral, waiting for another tragedy that might shift it into a fast reverse. I'm resigned to the fact that we will not go to Mars in my lifetime, which is too bad. Dan Quayle and now Bush make great-sounding statements about going to Mars, but always stop when it's time to get out the checkbook.

And yet, we live in a time of intense and accelerating change. The changes that have occurred in my field, academic libraries, have been phenomenal since 1989 when I got my library degree. It's easy to look ahead to the day, fast approaching, when all scholarly publishing will be electronic, although I doubt if ebooks will replace "Fiber based" information technology in the century. I haven't read science fiction in ages, so I don't know if they're doing better at prognosticating than the Disney people. Maybe we're just getting tired as a people and want to circle the wagons so we can hold on to what we've already got. I miss the 1960's.

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