Wonderment …

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.—St. Augustine

In the Year 2000

It is always fun to look at how a previous age viewed the future. More than a hundred years ago, Jean-Marc Côté drew a series of illustrations to be used for cigar boxes and postcards depicting what the world would be like in the year 2000. You can view a selection of these pictures at The Public Domain Review, from which I have taken the charming “Rural Postman” above.

Far from having flying postmen covering the farm households of America, we are now considering how to pay to deliver mail to them at all. And what kind of fuel would all these personal flying vehicles use? And, given France’s horrible auto accident rate, who would police the traffic in the air so that an accidental sneeze or text message would not send flyers plummeting to their deaths below?

A casual look outside your window would demonstrate that the steampunk dreams of yesterday were not realized. We now live in a digital world, immersed in tiny handheld gadgets with teeny-tiny screens that contain our lives and distract us mightily from the business of daily life.

And our forecasts for the future? We are so tied now to a digital paradigm that we don’t see that it can—and will—be replaced by something else, and probably sooner than we realize. Subconsciously, we have internalized Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on integrated surfaces doubles every four years. But as we know, trends do not last forever. There will be a new paradigm, a new equivalent to Moore’s Law, and there we go again!

What will it be? Can it be, possibly, a return to analog? It’s possible. There may even be something which we haven’t yet begun to imagine.

Nonetheless, I will hazard a prediction. I predict that the future will bring new wonders and new problems in roughly equal measure. Certain problems that we now regard as insoluble will be solved; and new problems which will seem insoluble will emerge. Of one thing we can be sure, our children will look upon the wonders of the digital age exactly the way we look at steampunk. Those thirty-somethings tapping away on their notebook computers and iPads at Starbuck’s will look like mustachioed suspender salesmen behind the wheel of their Ford Model-Ts.