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The Philosophy of Science: Part the seventh

January 22nd, 2011 · No Comments · Philosophy of Science

If this is the future, where’s my jet pack?

The future is bright and wonderful. We’ll have colonies on the moon and clothes that clean themselves.

The future is dark and gritty. The proletariat slave away in the bottom of decaying cities at the service of mega-corporations while the rich and beautiful live lives of luxury above.

The future is an apocalypse, a beautiful green paradise, houses under the sea, orbital warfare, obey the computer, games played for stakes unknown… but let us not forget the most important part of all – the future will bring Jet Packs!

The future was awesome when I was a kid, so why does it suck so much now that I’m there?

The major problem with the future is that we’ve all these great ideas of what it’s going to be like, but forget that it arrives one day at a time. By the time some fantastic new invention does arrive, its predecessors have already dulled the anticipation to the point that it’s in no way as exciting as we thought it was going to be. Witness the iPhone. If that sucker had shown up even ten years ago it would have been a wonder (from memory, at that point the ability just to text was amazing) now it’s just seen as a fancier toy. When I look across the vast expanse of my years there has been a huge amount of change that is unrecognised. I may not have a multi screen television that I can direct my own show on, but I can go to youtube and watch a dog dance the Macarena! Yep. That was worth waiting for.

You see the point is, Science evolves. Five hundred years ago, some cultures (Europeans) thought that the sun revolved around the earth (suckers). One hundred years ago, there were still scientists who openly questioned the existence of atoms. And many of our current assumptions about how everything works will inevitably be questioned and/or disproven in the future.

The most astonishing part about all this is that the rate at which Science evolves is actually accelerating and society is changing just as rapidly to keep up with it. Once societal change took a generation, it can now occur within a few short years. Generation X spanned 20 years – and then fell to the Gen Y’s within the span of a decade, and they’re now being just as quickly superseded by Gen Z. Each of these Generations represents a new attitude and way of thinking about the world and their place in it. Personally, I just wish they would respect their elders a bit more before I have to wack them with my walking stick.

Societal change has been driven by technological change. The printing press introduced the mass production and distribution of printed material, the photograph allowed people to see the world without leaving their home, radio introduced instantaneous communication and television made it a part of everyday life.

All of these inventions changed society. The effects of the printing press have enabled communities of scientists to share ideas easily and collectively develop the knowledge of the world, helping to bring on the scientific revolution. The photograph brought images from the front of “The Great War” (that’s World War I to you uneducated slobs); devastating portraits of brutality that made it harder to advocate for the beauty of dying for your country. (Less appealing/sane-looking after seeing photos of corpses rotting in the mud while men slept beside them.) And this in turn was reinforced by live radio reporting from the fronts of World War II and the Korean War.

Television has been one of the greatest drivers of recent societal change even if it is slowly losing its grip on society to the internet. The Baby Boomers were brought up in the first era of television, mostly provided by state broadcasters who determined the content of the programming. Gen Xers were brought up in the second era of television, when the cost of television production dropped to a point that allowed private enterprise to break the monopoly of government and provide a more varied range of programming along with far more choice to the viewer about what they wanted to watch, even if it was Fox.

Baby boomers are often seen as the last of the homogenous societies. No, this doesn’t mean they were gay (Boom! Boom!) just that the baby boomers were the last generation to predominately share the same traits and characteristics. The Gen Xers started the trend towards a more heterogenous (individualised) society which has been linked to their access to more a diverse range of ideas and information than their predecessors.

Gen Y arrived during the internet’s initial phases and its development from static websites to interactive pages that allow the users to create their own content. The latest generation (Gen Z) is recognised as the most interconnected generation ever with the ability to communicate with multiple peers around the world instantaneously about Paris Hilton flashing her panties. Nice to see that even as society changes, human nature stays exactly the same.

So technological change, when it happens normally, happens at a rate acceptable to human society i.e. change may be happening much faster than at any other point in history but we are so acclimatised to it that we no longer see it as anything extraordinary. No matter what revolutionary developments are occurring, step by step, around us – while they’re actually happening they are very rarely noticed. This is how the internet has crept up and integrated itself so deeply into our lives within a short span of 15 years.

But! You may have noticed that all this theorising hasn’t really answered my primary enquiry – ie. where the hell is my Jet Pack? –  it’s just showed us that the future is exciting and new but not what we expected. The major reason we don’t have Jet Packs is that, besides being awesome, they really serve no practical purpose. Even the military, normally willing to take a swing at the most stupid inventions, found little use for Jet Packs. Sure your soldiers would have the ability to jump 50 feet into the air (thereby making them into more effective targets); as an added side benefit they are most probably carrying highly explosive fuel-tanks so if they did get shot they’ll go up like a firework. I somehow doubt any General would count these as advantages.

Anyway, after all my bitching, I am thrilled to inform you that for only $90,000.00, you can buy your own Jet Pack! The Martin Jetpack (named after its inventor Glenn Martin, who’s also a kiwi – yaaay patriotism!) will soon be available for purchase in the United States. See, all it took was one man with a big dream… well actually, from his interview with the ABC it seems he was staggering home from the pub one night and decided that the world needed Jet Packs. (I wonder if you can get DUI’d driving a Jet Pack? Will we soon need hover-cops? Could this be an exciting new television show? Does anyone else besides me think it’s stupid that Massey security ride around on Segways?)

But I digress – the Martin Jetpack can fly for about half an hour and reach speeds of 100 km/hr, using the same fuel you can buy from the petrol station. If you do run out of fuel it will auto-deploy a parachute to prevent damage to the machinery. Hopefully it also releases the pilot’s safety harness at the same time because if you’re stupid enough to be hovering 2 km’s up on an empty tank of gas you’re also too stupid to live.

Which leaves us with one final intellectual quandary. Now that we do have Jet Packs, what can I moan about not having?

Of course!

If this is the future where are my goshdang robot prostitutes?

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