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May 30th, 2007


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12:10 pm - The future is FUN! The future is FAIR! You may have already WON! You may already BE THERE!
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Quick! Ask me! What's my favorite thing?
No, what's my other favorite thing?
No no, I mean, what's my other other favorite thing?

PREDICTIONS OF THE NOT-TOO-DISTANT FUTURE!

Mike Mennonno points out the Boston Glob's super Sunday special this week: a gaze into the far-flung future of 2017. This is an extra-special treat, of course, because nothing gives this change-resistant curmudgeon more joy and schadenfreude than reading earnestly optimistic predictions, written in the second person, of the Life You Will Live In The Future. You'll wake up in the morning and hop on your shower conveyor belt! Then after a quick meal of rehydrated soyoatmeal while your wife calls the grocer on the videophone to order tonight's dinner, it's off to your flying car for a quick commute to your job of watching the supercomputer and pressing the "PRESS ME" button whenever it lights up! O bliss! O heaven! O sign me up!

Sure, the Globe's predictions aren't as super space-age as all that. Predictions made 10 years out are often a bit more conservative than the Flying Cars predictions made by those looking 25, 30 years ahead. Even so, some of the Globe's prognostications are indeed corporately optimistic to the point of the ol' AT&T "YOU WILL" commercials (ever conducted a business meeting... while suffering from food poisoning?) and some seem to be inevitabilities. Others, well, aren't they already here?



Let's first see what the Glob has to say about life in good old-fashioned Porter Square. Now as you and I both know, Porter Square nowadays is a muddy cow pasture, bordered on three sides by dirt roads and one paved road which the bus takes twice a day, once at six in the morning and once at six at night. What busy metropolis will this Cambridge institution become ten years from now? Apparently a lot of it will involve cellphones:
Commuters who stop into the Shaw's Supermarket in Porter Square will receive targeted information, like the recommendations you get from Amazon.com, and they approach and enter.
Oh, yes, Ethel, the future will be awesome thanks to advertising! Just like in Minority Report! Never mind the fact that when I go to the grocery store, I usually have a set list of things to buy, even if that list is more abstract at times (PROTEIN. UH, DAIRY PRODUCTS. UH... ORANGE JUICE! THINGS THAT ARE SALTY! THINGS THAT ARE IN A BAG! THINGS YOU FIND IN A GROCERY STORE! Oh, I've never been very good at playing the Pyramid.) I don't need extra nudging advice on my phone targeted just to me. It's eerie enough when Amazon does it, and Amazon does it to the point of unsettling obsession: "Hey! You browsed past a Hardy Boys link in 2000. Here, have some stuff Parker Stevenson did!"

Sure, our purchases have been tracked ever since the Super Saver Saving Club Cards were introduced, and every now and then you get that special Just For You coupon with your receipt (did you buy Rolaids this time around, Mr. Ulcer Mans? Well, next time, try Prilosec, and save a buck!) but those coupons are usually for the next visit. I don't need the supermarket telling me what to buy this visit. Sales signs and shelf tags will do just fine, thank you very much. Besides, the last thing the Porter Shaws needs is more morons standing dumbly in the all-too-narrow aisles, cellphone glued to their ear, asking questions such as "Uh... which brand again? Do we want the creamy or the extra chunky?" to the person who really should have been doing the shopping in the first place. OKAY FUTURE BALL, TELL US WHAT OTHER WONDERS LAY AHEAD!
Commuters emerging from the station will not just check their phones, they will "check out" rental cars from a cluster of small vehicles stacked like shopping carts. A card swipe will bring down a car for the drive home, to be returned the next morning.
Ok, so basically we're envisioning... Zipcars. Perhaps smaller, one-person efficient vehicles, but Zipcars nonetheless. I guess it'll take 10 years to develop that mad crazy stacking dispenser system. By the way, he asked with a snicker, will this mad crazy stacking dispenser system be located in front of, or next to the Segway stand?
Billboards will be replaced by more targeted signage, devoted to "way-finding" and information about buildings and locations, rather than advertising. Locations will also be tagged with data so your device can call up the history of older buildings.
Again, just like in Minority Report! However, I'm excited about that last bit. It can only be a boon to historians and aficionados of old things such as myself. Now I can learn that this Starbucks used to be a restaurant called Christopher's, and that Starbucks used to be a place called Toad! How interesting!
On the sidewalks and park benches, people in Porter Square circa 2017 will use their cellphones to access a place-based search engine that could, for example, instantly tell them the nearby restaurants that are open late at night.
We can easily tell this one is nothing but pure fantasy, as there is nothing in this godforsaken part of the state that's open reasonably late at night. Well, except for Dunkies and whatever they're calling the White Hens these days. Still, we have this technology already. Heck, Yelp already shows you other establishments in the area of the place you're reading up on, and I'm reasonably sure you can do a search for places flagged "open late" or whatnot. I don't know if they've got a PDA-friendly version up, but the point is that the tech is already here, plus you don't have to be on a sidewalk or park bench to use it. Let's try not to present current technology as something New And Shiny ten years down the road, shall we?
People taking the T might suddenly break into a run as they approach the station because their cellphone will tell them if a train is approaching.
I sure hope they mean commuter rail trains here, because it would be hilariously laughable if the Future Thinkers expect someone on street level to dash down both Porter's incredible escalators once they get a message that an inbound subway train has just left Davis. Hell, I don't even think you'd make it if you were to race down to catch a train that'd just left Harvard.

Thing is, though, the T is preparing to update its notification system, which apparently means actual working Commuter Rail signs and adding ETAs to the LED signs in the subway tunnels. In spite of the ongoing plans, Dan Grabauskas had already voiced his thumbs-down to the latter, claiming all people really need to know is if a train is coming, not when -- and that philosophy right there pretty sums up the MBTA attitude. The train'll be along at some point. Why do you need to know such crazy details as when? It's not like there's any kind of operational timetable they're working on here.

I bet you didn't know, for instance, that Red Line trains are dispatched from Alewife by Jimmy, an 80-year-old devotee of the system they can't get to retire for love or pension. Jimmy just likes dispatching trains with his puppy Oilcan, who hangs around on a leash tied to Jimmy's leg. When Jimmy falls asleep and the puppy gets bored, it runs off to find something to do, tugging Jimmy's leg and waking him up. Jimmy then hits a button that says MAKE TRAIN GO NOW and that little dispatch bell rings, and soon another train is off on a great adventure. Satisfied with a job well done, Jimmy goes back to sleep and the puppy calms down for a few more minutes.

There's more in this Globe future fair section involving the T and Harvard's wish to fund an Inner Ring of railway for cross-town public transport. Sure beats I-695, that's for sure, though I'm pretty sure we'll see this Inner Ring go up after the Red and Blue Line connector is inaugurated.
You won't simply be friends with people on MySpace.com, you'll be friends with places. Porter Square might be telling you who else is in the square at the same time as you. Not everyone, however –- only those who elect to make their location public.
We're already not simply friends with people on MySpace! We have the opportunity to make friends with bands, politicians, exploited camwhores and their friends, and -- yes, I do believe -- locations. I think the real appeal of this instant Me-Locator is the same one that drives people to use Twitter. Hey! Look where I am! Look what I'm doing! If you're nearby, maybe we could send text messages to each other!

Another major section of the Globe's future look is the report on the Greenway, which for outtatownas is the now open-air land formerly occupied by our elevated expressway. Lots of ideas have been thrown about as to what to do with this highway-width swath of land curving around the eastern part of Boston proper. The Globe's mad crazy imaginavigational system shows what could go up where. There's a Boston Museum, which will be nice for tourists, and a "New Center for Arts and Culture." Both of these buildings were designed by architects who obviously never throw stones, for the structures appear to be made almost entirely of glass.

Amusingly enough, the 2017 article still reports that "...debate continues as to whether a large botanical garden structure is appropriate" on the Greenway, and that makes me chortle more than anything else. The Big Big Awesome Botanical Garden Project has been a big carrot on the end of the Big Dig stick (Hey guys! Pay for us to move the Central Artery underground, and... you can have this bee-yootiful Botanical Garden, plus restored Arborway service!) and to think that folks will still be hedging on it ten years from now does make me smile.

There's a whole section devoted to the new waterfront, and Menino's giant Compensation Tower, but let's end this whole parade of the absurd by reading the epicurean view of the future. Now, remember, this was written by a "recently decamped" dining critic, and dining critics do tend to live in their own little crazy food worlds, so when you encounter a phrase like "Tuna tartare will have run its course, thank heaven" just smile and nod and pretend you knew tuna tartare was so passe all along.
The Seaport District of South Boston, a flatland today best known for the new Anthony's, will have dozens of options -- from posh to clam shack -- spread down the wide expanse of Northern Avenue, which has a Vegas-like glitz.
No, no, no. Route 1 in Saugus has a "Vegas-like glitz." And what does "Vegas-like glitz" mean for Route 1?

Giant fiberglas cows and the Leaning Tower of Pizza. Just think about it for a moment.
When you've had enough nautical sights and have tired of the district's modern high-rise styles, you'll head over to Fort Point Channel. The classic early-20th-century factory buildings will have a full complement of condos on upper floors, and restaurants, nightclubs, and retail at street level. Two of Boston's best chefs, Barbara Lynch and Joanne Chang, have already staked out turf in the Fort Point Channel neighborhood.
Wait. Have the chefs already staked out turf in Fort Point, or are we still in the future present tense here?
Another plan could be to simply saunter up -- literally -- to Summer Street (there is a plan to elevate the street) for a steak or nestle into one of the cozy wine bars, enotecas to you Italophiles. You might finish the night with cappuccino at Euro-hip cafes like Gulu-Gulu. So Prague of you.
And isn't Summer Street already "elevated" once it gets past the bridge and heads towards the Convention Center? I dunno. That's the only part of the that paragraph I could understand, because I am apparently not an Italophile.
The way we eat will change, too. We'll drop main courses. The idea of a hunk of protein will be restricted to steakhouses -- another survivor -- where you go once in a while to reminisce. We'll eat more like Chinese or Indians -- many little dishes passed around and shared communally.
There was another paragraph above this one that did discuss the current influx of new cultures and flavors and ingredients, and sure, that does tend to flavor a neighborhood, but is it going to kill the main course off? C'mon. If we're going this far in our radical predictions, I might as well say we'll be eating vitamin pills and nutrient mist before we know it. C'mon, Globe! Pay me to make crazy predictions! I'll be your Criswell! Check it out: By 2017, you'll have your hair done by cellphone! Whoopee!
The newest craze may be a heightened form of do-it-yourself: You'll order your meal on hand-held computers and pay on them, too.
They tried that at Legal Test Kitchen, you know, the whole ordering-by-computer thing, but I don't think anybody noticed because they were too busy complaining about the food. Okay, enough of that.

It's silly to predict the future with any degree of certainty. You can definitely spot trends and extrapolate where they may lead us, but using the future present tense, especially in the second person, is presumptuous to the point of pure science-fiction and I loves me my science-fiction.

True, some predictions do come true, even ones in jest: the first episode of Saturday Night Live in October 1975 featured a fake ad for a razor with three blades "because you'll believe anything we tell you." And over twenty years later, once the Mach3 became part of the shaving consciousness, The Onion went and wrote an article about a razor with five blades and lubricating strip, and, well, once again, there's a new razor coming out just like it.

But the best inventions and innovations happen through necessity, not pie-eyed optimism. C'mon, even Schoolhouse Rock told us that. ("Elias, can you help me with my sew-ing?" "Mother dear, I'll fulfill your fondest wishes!")

Is this not true? The daily things we take for granted now that would've seemed preposterous in 1997 (bringing down hundreds of megabytes in a minute or two over a home Internet connection?) have come about gradually. We weren't informed in advance that certain features or items were going to Rock Our World. Nobody ever stood up and said "GENTLEMEN! I predict that by 2005, the Internet will be beamed to us THROUGH THE AIR!" Instead, someone probably got frustrated when they reached the limit of their laptop's ethernet cable, and began to think how nice it would be to use some kind of technology -- no, no, that scenario is not quite right; the technology has been used since the 90s in industrial and commercial settings. But still. No major pronouncements of GENTLEMEN!

Right?

I can't think of the last time someone told me their geegaw was going to revolutionize the way I think/act/eat/drink/work/play/sleep/screw/walk/look at the world, and they were actually right. Can you think of one in the past 8 years?

(15 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:fancycwabs
Date:May 30th, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)
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If Demolition Man is to be believed, in the future all restaurants are Taco Bell. That's probably at least as accurate as the Glob.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:May 30th, 2007 04:44 pm (UTC)
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We better learn how to use the shells now, or risk Derision Of The Future!
[User Picture]
From:mmcirvin
Date:May 30th, 2007 05:06 pm (UTC)
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It wasn't recent, but one of the biggies--television--actually was hyped by pie-in-the-sky futurists decades in advance. And Edison pre-announced the electric light when it was vaporware.

There are also hype-filled stories about mobile phones from about 100 years ago, as the Paleo-Future blogger recently discovered.

These are, however, exceptions that prove the rule. Most grand futurism from about 1880-1980 is obsessed with advances in transport; nobody saw them stalling out completely around 1970.
[User Picture]
From:ron_newman
Date:May 30th, 2007 05:09 pm (UTC)
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In the US, perhaps, but Europe and Japan have continued to develop ever-faster bullet trains.
[User Picture]
From:marphod
Date:May 30th, 2007 05:12 pm (UTC)
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Trains are hardly ne. Fast trains are cool, but still not that pie-in-the-sky. Maglev is closer, but still not there.

Flying cars, suborbital space-planes, jetpacks, and the like were the common predictions.
[User Picture]
From:marphod
Date:May 30th, 2007 05:10 pm (UTC)
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I sure hope they mean commuter rail trains here, because it would be hilariously laughable if the Future Thinkers expect someone on street level to dash down both Porter's incredible escalators once they get a message that an inbound subway train has just left Davis. Hell, I don't even think you'd make it if you were to race down to catch a train that'd just left Harvard.

For what its worth, I've done both sets of escalators in under a minute, total. It is doable. Not safe, mind you, but ... .
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:May 30th, 2007 05:16 pm (UTC)
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Didja make the train?
[User Picture]
From:marphod
Date:May 30th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)
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I've made inbound trains that started to arrive when I was just-at-the-top of the second escalator. Although, they were always in high-traffic times, so I had a little longer to get on them.

I've not made outbound trains, but I'm usually in less of a hurry for outbound.

From the top of the 1st escalator, it was mostly to see if I could do it, and how fast. I had no idea if there were trains or not at that point.
[User Picture]
From:marphod
Date:May 30th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)
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(I was also in better shape, and this was before I severely twisted my ankle, a few years back.)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:May 30th, 2007 06:37 pm (UTC)
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I seem to recall hearing Bob Dorough mention that "Mother Necessity" was the most difficult of all Schoolhouse Rock songs to produce, as every one of the Schoolhouse Rock singers (Blossom Dearie, Jack Sheldon, etc.) had a part in it. But when it came time to lay down the track everybody was scattered all across the country, so a cadre of techs recorded each person's piece separately at whatever recording studio they could find.

I like listening to Bob Dorough. Dude's in his 80s and he still rocks the 88 like nobody's business.
From:argentla
Date:May 30th, 2007 05:40 pm (UTC)
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I'm glad to see that the legacy of Jean Shepherd is alive and well. Hail, Spatchel!
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:May 30th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC)

razzmatazz and a rooty toot toot

(Link)
Oh, dear old cranky Shep would have had a great chortle over something like this. You know the Day People would be absolutely thrilled with their cellphones telling them what's on sale.

And you can just hear Shep cheering this development ("Progress marches on! Mankind forever changed!") and then stopping to play "The Sheik of Araby" on the jew's harp.
[User Picture]
From:hemlock_martini
Date:May 30th, 2007 06:33 pm (UTC)
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GENTLEMEN! I appear to have pooped my pants using FUTURISTIC TECHNOLOGY! Now write a column about it!
[User Picture]
From:28bytes
Date:May 30th, 2007 09:31 pm (UTC)
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Only 8 more years until all our cars have orange barcodes instead of license plates!
[User Picture]
From:doctor_sentence
Date:June 3rd, 2007 01:46 pm (UTC)
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It's eerie enough when Amazon does it, and Amazon does it to the point of unsettling obsession: "Hey! You browsed past a Hardy Boys link in 2000. Here, have some stuff Parker Stevenson did!"
Not so long ago Amazon surpassed themselves with an e-mail along the lines of "You've never shown any interest in [product type], but in case you change your mind about it, this is what we recommend."

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