Now I’m the one who’s dated. I still remember the envy I felt in the late 70s when my cousins received a game of Pong for Christmas, and the closest contender in my stocking was a pack of playing cards. In the 1980s it was the height of sophistication to own a Filofax. One day in the mid-90s I sat in front of a friend’s home computer (no one else I knew had one yet) while she urged me to type anything – ANYTHING! – into the strange phenomenon of a World Wide Web browser. I regarded early adopters of cell phone technology as anti-social posers, annoying everyone else with their expensive fads and their loud public conversations – but come the new millennium, I shrugged off those Luddite tendencies and purchased my own. It wasn’t smart, but it did look like something from Star Trek. (I’ve kept all my old cell phones. You never know – the one with the pull-up antenna might be worth something one day.) As William Shatner observes on page 52, we live in the most exciting time in history. It’s especially exciting if you have a comparison – clear memories of a time before computers were ubiquitous, before the World Wide Web, and when change happened way more slowly than warp speed.
Now that human brains are connected to each other via a vast digital nervous system, who knows what new discoveries, toys, weapons and tools will emerge in the coming decades to reshape our everyday lives – for better or for worse. We may find evidence of life on Earth-like planets beyond our Solar System, yet we may have lost polar bears and coral reefs to climate change on our own planet. Medical advances might mean that we no longer lose our loved ones to cancer, and a host of other diseases and genomic misfortunes, but we may find ourselves living under the constant threat of devastatingly effective and highly accessible weaponry. Technology will no doubt make our daily lives easier through a huge range of luxury services and lifestyle gadgets limited only by our imaginations. But will privacy and freedom from surveillance have become impossible to secure?
One thing is for sure: the older I get and the faster things change, the more of an oddity I will become to the young. Great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces will ask annoying questions (maybe while we’re on our way to the moon for a family vacation): Are we nearly there yet? Was microfiche a kind of tadpole? What did magnolias smell like? Can I have your antique cell phone collection if you die? Were there dinosaurs then? They won’t get a cuff on the ear, but they won’t be getting my antique cell phone collection either.