Monday, February 22, 2010

The Bittersweetness of Futurology

Futurology is a goofy word that stands for the study of the future. It's the rigorous effort to predict future trends--not what the stockmarket is going to do tomorrow, but whether we'll be on the moon in 30 years, what will science and engineering have produced, by when a woman ought to have become president--things that revolve around probabilities and general trends in the long term.

This is an old interview with Carl Sagan on the Tonight Show. He was presenting some of the results from the Viking lander as well as mentioning prospective results from the Voyager probes:

Watching this, I feel sorrow. Sagan and Denver discuss the launch of Enterprise--the test run of the Space Shuttle, the fleet of ships recently shut down and sold for 20 million dollars each. Denver talks about riding on the shuttle someday, something that never happened. In fact, the shuttle never took passengers for fun. Space tourism remains out of reach of all but a few who were willing to pay millions of dollars to the Russians to fly them up.

There's also a bit of hope. Sagan mentions theories about Io. The reality--that Io is covered in giant volcanoes--is far more exciting. Voyager showed us that the solar system was far more thrilling than the child of speculation.

At the time, the future was in space. Now, in that future, our lives revolve around something the speculation failed to mention--the Internet. It's something that we're all apart of, not a just a few hundred explorers as space exploration, at best, would have been. The Internet appeals to our vanity, something to which everyone can contribute.


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