The future may already be here, and it costs $24.95

Every day, we prepare ourselves for the future. We might plan it in detail or leave it to chance, but we generally know what we’re going to be doing later today, tomorrow, next week. We might opt for a tree or sea change, or become grey nomads – but it will be pretty much what we expect it to be.

We plant seeds both metaphorical and physical, with the expectation that tomorrow will come, life will be more of what we already know.

Sudden tragedy or disaster is deeply unsettling. But even then we cope – with illness, or the roof falling in, or loved ones in trouble. Once these things happen the status quo may be a new status quo, but the new present gradually becomes the norm.

All the same, the urge to know our future is inherent in our nature – reading entrails as in the primitive past, or finding patterns and omens in one’s surrounding, or reading tea leaves or star signs, are very human activities. Primitive but human. All to no avail of course. How many psychics win lotteries?

I consider the future through fiction. It’s science fiction but a particular kind. Not green aliens (The Time Machine‘s future humans were alien enough for me) and not big boys with big toys conquering the universe. I enjoy writing that speculates realistically about the future. That’s speculative fiction.

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Writer Margaret Atwood’s said, ‘Speculative fiction encompasses that which we could actually do. Sci-fi is that which we’re probably not going to see.

So that’s my kind of science fiction – spec fic. I appreciate the science part of science fiction in a ‘spectator sport’ kind of way. I try to keep up with scientific advances, discoveries about the universe, people preparing for a one-way trip to Mars, global warming and so on.

The site Wired noted that in 1964, Isaac Asimov wrote that in 50 years we’d be living in a science fiction reality. Among his prophesies that have now arrived are instant coffee, driverless cars, and robots to vacuum our homes.

From Blood Music by Greg Bear, to The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, blood borne health care bots are a beloved science fiction concept. This year, scientists created self-powered, swimming micro-robots that could one day be used to play doctor on your body from the inside.

Nevil Shute was noted for his foretelling, sometimes surprising accurate. My personal favourite hasn’t yet come about. In his book In the Wet, ‘everyone gets one vote, but other votes can be earned by individuals, up to a maximum of seven’. Now that’s futuristic – for now.

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Everybody knows that the future won’t really be here until we can scoot along on hoverboards like Marty McFly. Only this week in the Australian Geographic shop, I saw a new game: the Hover Soccer Game. ‘With its powerful hover action, the Hover Soccer literally floats on a cushion of air over smooth surfaces’. The future may already be here, and it costs $24.95.

But seriously, thinking beyond our own lifetime, I wonder what we all imagine.

There is one current trend that disquiets me: according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, since 1976 the total fertility rate for Australia has been below replacement level. I’ve learned that almost all developed countries are not replacing their current populations. A May 2014 headline in the Washington Times reads, ‘US fertility plummets to record low’. They couldn’t manage without their migrants! Could we?

What current trend in society might have a surprising route ahead? Future technology must be very different, but what would you be surprised to picture still being here, or not being here, long after you and I are one with the cosmos again?

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