“That even space travel is now a reality”

And now for today’s news from the Department of Serendipity.

Quote Investigator digs diligently, delightfully and with positive results into the provenance of William Gibson’s lumpily doled-out future|present.

But the bit that stands out for me is Ralph Thomas’ 1967 criticism of Marshall McLuhan…

McLuhan suffers also from a mixed-up time sense. He believes the future has already happened. He often says most people can see thru the rearview mirror, but he seems to have the opposite fault. He appears to think total automation is upon us, that the whole world is linked as “global village” by TV, that even space travel is now a reality.

Meanwhile, 45 years and exactly six Moon landings into McLuhan’s future, this from Ed Booty of BBH London…

As we’ve explored and embraced the bewildering possibilities, we’ve increasingly convinced ourselves that a revolution is here. Meanwhile real peoples’ lives and needs simply aren’t changing at the same pace. What is possible is growing at an exponential rate, but how people actually live and use technologies has changed very little.  This gap between the myth and reality is ever-widening.

Mind that gap, people.

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4 thoughts on ““That even space travel is now a reality”

  1. It’s certainly true that the digital media industry seems often to be populated by snake oil salesmen peddling dreams. iPhone wielding fops spouting something they read in the latest book are two-a-penny. But these are not the people really working the digital revolution. If you look past the hype I find it incredible for anyone to say that the last 25 or even 15 years have not changed the world fundamentally.

    During the Sinclair years (mid 80s, ask your Dad) I would sit with a friend and we would talk in hushed voices about stories in Crash magazine which told of computer games of the future where you could actually control a real cartoon type character rather than an 8-bit sprite. Think about this – we didn’t even have any concept of 3D graphics.

    I keep starting the next sentence in my head, with statements like “a global network of supercomputers” or “a screen in my pocket that can connect me to anyone on the planet, uses spaceships to track where I am and can answer any question I ask” – but it all sounds ludicrous. You know what’s happened – internet, mobile phones, smartphones. You know what it’s changed – how we work, how we shop, how we meet people, how we keep in touch, how we spend our leisure time, etc.. etc.. blah blah blah blah blah

    I guess Mr Booty is being provocative – and working in advertising you have to work with what the majority have, not at the cutting edge of hype, in order to get reach – that’s obvious. But really – it you think nothing’s changed you’re off your rocker.

    • Indeed. So I guess the point is not to deny that change happens but to emphasise two aspects.

      First, uneven distribution. Yes, space travel is a reality – but for so few people that all their names fit on a single Wikipedia page:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_space_travelers_by_name (looks like you’re still in with a chance to be the first Andy Brown in space :)
      Back down on Earth, while one part of the population gets great deals by shopping online and checking in by iPhone for their shorthaul citybreak flights, another is still catching the off-peak bus to the market to stock up on a few days’ provisions. And that’s just in one city. Zoom out to the global picture and we can see how uneven the distribution really is.

      Second, I challenge the implication of inevitability so often bundled with the “future’s already here”, as if all one has to do is look at the streets of Shibuya to see how everyone will live in the future. This is not at all to undermine the efforts of the brave toilers of the digital revolution. Actually the reverse, because techno-utopianism makes their work of changing the world seem much easier than it is in reality.

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