Every day, frustrated people around the globe wonder via sarcastic t-shirt whatever happened to the future we were promised as children. A future in which everyone flies their hovercar to a four-hour workday at the cybermines, breaking off only to pop a protein pill and hop a transport tube to the exercise pods.
After all, the iPhone is kind of like a Star Trek communicator (especially this iPhone) and some of those giant glass underwater hotels theyre building in Dubai rival Heinlein on a good day. But what about the rest? Our jetpacks, robots and laser guns? Were they just sweet fiction, the hollow promises of a society longing for the comfort and freedom of a spandex unitard?
Sadly, no. The disappointing truth is that the futuristic devices weve demanded for so long are already here. Just different ... and kind of shitty. Its like when you order something at Dennys based on the picture on the menu, but when the food comes out it looks like a pile of phlegm smothered in gravy. Behold: the future (in phlegm and gravy form)!
#8. Ray GunsWhat We Were Promised: Forget gun control, bullets will be obsolete once we get our hands on an ion-spitting, atomic-powered, soul-searing plasma cannon. From Han Solos handy blaster to Kirks minimalist phaser (complete with multiple firing modes), the laser gun has become so intrinsic to our vision of the future that we created laser tag just so our children could train in their usage, in preparation for the inevitable laser wars of 2013. The ray gun is proof positive that while mankind may have enough collective imagination to envision a futuristic multi-verse where vast empires slug it out on the galactic scale, we arent quite up to imagining doing so with anything other than a good old-fashioned, pleasantly phallic six-gun in our hands.
As Seen In:Star Wars, Barbarella, Alien, Farscape, Dune, Doctor Who, anywhere lightsabers are unavailable.
The Pale Imitation: Scientists have actually made a pass at the ray gun. Only problem is its the kind of pass you used to make on essays about how you spent your summer vacation. Instead of a hand-sized blaster spitting ionized crimson death, the military has proudly unveiled an invisible sound wave that kind of burns and is the size of a truck. Heres a video of a middle-aged "60 Minutes" reporter easily foiling it with a mattress.
Well, even if we cant look forward to Star Wars-style laser battles, at least we can rest assured that our enemies, provided they dont have any mattresses handy, will have to step literally several feet to the left in deference to our mighty future arsenal.
#7. Food PillsWhat We Were Promised: Theres nothing more pass than eating food. Weve been doing it for thousands of years now, and its time to move on. Soon enough, the only people shoveling food into their mouths will be out-of-touch Neanderthals watching tumbleweeds roll by at the abandoned food court. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be popping protein pills by the handful, saving us enough time to read books describing how stuff used to taste back in the primitive days.
As Seen In:The Jetsons, Soylent Green, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
The Pale Imitation: Tiny cans of ass-flavored soda, nutrition bars that virtually demand to be eaten four at a sitting, and the addition of the word energy to the front of nearly every food product imaginable. And while the food is getting smaller, its a long way from pill size. In the meantime, instead of focusing on cramming all that goodness into a single dot, food companies have taken to making shitty-tasting versions of all their regular foods.
Energy cereal? Really? This distraction could prove fatal to the future of food pill technology. If were not careful, the trend towards down-sizing food could become totally derailed and end up with shelves full of energy-boosting hot dogs, memory-aiding muffins, and chicken breast that inoculates you against polio.
#6. Moving Sidewalks/Transport TubesWhat We Were Promised:As early as 1900, man was envisioning a future in which all major cities were connected and traversed with smooth-moving, safe, and speedy robotic sidewalks or, failing that, at the very least some kind of city-wide vacuum tube that whipped civilians through the air to their destinations at staggering velocities (and yet, against all logic, never resulted in the splattering of the tubes interior with the remains of a commuter who leaned a little too far to the left).
As Seen In:Metropolis, Caves of Steel, Minority Report, FuturamaThe Pale Imitation: The Segway. It moves you around at about walking speed, and instead of costing the government billions of dollars to install moving sidewalk technology all across the country, it costs rich douchebags a few thousand dollars to graphically point out that they are, in fact, rich douchebags (who shop at The Sharper Image no less). And in case you cant afford a Segway, or dont want to be seen riding one, you can get a taste of the future at nearly any major airport. That 100-yard segment of moving sidewalk is just long enough to let you slip into a daydream about shuttling effortlessly from place to place, but not long enough to let you actually enjoy it.
#5. The Fountain of YouthWhat We Were Promised: Health, beauty, strength, longevity, and, in some cases, immortality. Whether you rubbed it on your skin, ingested it, prayed to it, soaked in it, or shot it directly into your eyeball, it keeps you alive longer and that makes it all worth while. After all, youre going to want as many good years as possible battling the zombie plague that has overrun the scorched and desolate Earth. Even better, unlike the medicines of today, futurejuice has no unsightly or painful side effects (unless you count the crushing loneliness of watching everyone you know and love perish while you live on).
As Seen In:Star Wars (Bacta Tank), Star Trek (Medical Bay), Hyperion (The Cruciform), Metal Gear Solid (Nanobots).
The Pale Imitation: The secret to eternal youth has been sought since before Ponce De Leon stumbled around the swamp half a millennium ago, and were sad to report the search hasnt progressed much since then. Of course, modern societys got plenty of youth-restoring technologies: plastic surgery, miracle cream, a machine that will electrocute your stomach for hours on end (so that you dont have to!). But what we were promised was something as easy as downing a restorative elixir or soaking up some healing rays, not getting our boobs injected with ass fat. And while scientific studies have shown that there is a method that can increase lifespan up to 50% in lab rats and chimps, it turns out that method happens to be a strict calorie-reduced diet and intense exercise regiment. What a rip.
#4. Virtual RealityWhat We Were Promised: That even if none of the other wondrous future technologies materialized, at least wed be able to pretend they existed in a really meaningful way. We demand the kind of total immersion that will make us forget our family, job, and life, and spend the rest of our days soaring over fantasy worlds on the back of a majestic griffin. You know, like WoW. Only the future WoW will plug directly into your neural cortex and have an add-on that lets you bang movie stars.
As Seen In:Demolition Man, The 13th Floor, Tron, The Matrix, Lawnmower Man.
The Pale Imitation: Video games, long the leading edge of giving us lives better than our own, is once again the standard when it comes to modern-day VR. Youve got the Wii, which can simulate the physical act of bowling so closely that it makes you wonder why they chose the most boring thing in the world to simulate. Youve got MMORPGs, which, while they arent physically immersing in any sense, at least give you a consistent virtual world in which to deal with the same insufferable pricks you logged on to escape from. And if youre still jonesing for that true, headset VR experience, you can always don some 3D-glasses and take in Journey to the Center of the Earth. Yeah, we're sad too.
#3. Flying CarsWhat We Were Promised: Cars. That fly. Is it that difficult a concept? Its not like were asking for a fishing pole that fits in our pocket, or a television capable of cooking a brisket (although that would be nice). Weve got flying things, weve got cars. Some simple arithmetic yields screaming streaks of red and chrome cavorting overhead at Mach speed. Or dozens of fatal mid-air collisions a day. You know, whichever.
As Seen In:The Jetsons, Blade Runner, Stranger in a Strange Land, Back To The Future II.
The Pale Imitation: If youre sick of waiting around with nothing but a private helicopter to satisfy your hovercar fantasies, then youve got two options. Either you can pony up half a million bucks to reserve one of the worlds leading brand of flying car, the Moller (may we suggest selling your private helicopter?), or you can look for cheaper alternatives. The Moller is, in all actuality, a car that flies. Downsides are the fact that theyve been in production since the 1960s and arent yet on the market, and the aforementioned half a mil. The cheaper alternative, the hovercraft, gives you all the rush of a flying car, just a few feet off the ground! Plus they mostly come in neon day-glo, and you get to wear a snazzy life vest!
The choice is fairly clear.
#2. RobotsWhat We Were Promised: A compliant subclass of laborers who tackle every chore with cheerful precision, acquiesce to our every fantasy no matter how perverted, and band together in a bloody uprising only occasionally. Frankly, an uprising would almost be worth it if the robot fantasy finally paid off in all of its many variations: the robot maid, worker, pet, child, lover, et al. And besides, when the uprising does come, the robots surely wont kill those of us who have already chosen to become cyborgs (which is to say, all the cool people).
As Seen In:A.I., Star Wars, Lost in Space, Futurama, Terminator.
The Pale Imitation: Nearly every category of robot has been produced, with resoundingly disappointing results. Instead of Rosie the feisty robot maid, we get Roomba, the vacuum that roams around your house running into walls. Not enough, you say? If you really want the full robot maid experience, go for a Japanese robot toilet as well. At least thats one function were pretty sure the Jetson family didnt get. The robot pet angle has been laughably covered by Tamagatchis and Aibo, one of which dies if you go 10 minutes without feeding it, and the other of which moves like your dogs got some sort of horrifying bone disease. Sexbots? Real dolls. Robot factory workers? Illegal immigrants. Cyborgs? A guy who implanted a device in his hand that lets him unlock the door to his house (we assume the laser cannon arm is forthcoming). Everywhere you turn, a lackluster robot is waiting to confront you with its lack of functionality and dead eyes. Looks like the uprisings a ways off.
#1. A Globally Unified SocietyWhat We Were Promised: What better way to use all these vacuum tubes and ray guns than the formation of a pan-global mishmash of human cultures and customs? Politics, race relations and language barriers will finally be blended into a monotonous gray paste, for better or (just as often) worse. Combining all of the worlds countries into one monolithic mega-state not only presents a united front to alien invaders and cuts out all the hassle of a transparent government responsible to the people, it also saves the futures map and flag makers countless hours of work.
As Seen In:Brave New World, Star Trek, Blade Runner, Logans Run.
The Pale Imitation: There is indeed a global, unified society that bridges all national boundaries and cultural differences, and youre on it right now. Yes, tragically, the Internet is as close as weve come to Star Treks vision of a united mankind. Roddenberry dreamed of gleaming white cities, universal health coverage and starvation relief, and a renaissance of human creativity and exploration. Hell have to settle for lame humor lists and as much horse porn as he could possibly want (and from what we know about Gene Roddenberry, thats saying something). Look around you, readers; this is as good as it gets. And if that doesnt make you long for the simplicity of the 1930s, when all they had to contend with was the Great Depression and roving dust bowls, think about this: Theres someone painstakingly updating Josh Grobans Wikipedia entry right now.
When not writing for Cracked, Michael takes far too long to produce sketches as head writer and co-founder of Those Aren't Muskets!