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2001′s commercial moon flights and other cool stuff that never happened

In “Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit” (The Baffler, No. 19),

David Graeber muses on the way the future turned out to be much different from what children in the Sixties through the Eighties were led to expect:

Even in the seventies and eighties, in fact, sober sources such as National Geographic and the Smithsonian were informing children of imminent space stations and expeditions to Mars. Creators of science fiction movies used to come up with concrete dates, often no more than a generation in the future, in which to place their futuristic fantasies. In 1968, Stanley Kubrick felt that a moviegoing audience would find it perfectly natural to assume that only thirty-three years later, in 2001, we would have commercial moon flights, city-like space stations, and computers with human personalities maintaining astronauts in suspended animation while traveling to Jupiter. Video telephony is just about the only new technology from that particular movie that has appeared—and it was technically possible when the movie was showing. 2001 can be seen as a curio, but what about Star Trek? The Star Trek mythos was set in the sixties, too, but the show kept getting revived, leaving audiences for Star Trek Voyager in, say, 2005, to try to figure out what to make of the fact that according to the logic of the program, the world was supposed to be recovering from fighting off the rule of genetically engineered supermen in the Eugenics Wars of the nineties.

By 1989, when the creators of Back to the Future II were dutifully placing flying cars and anti-gravity hoverboards in the hands of ordinary teenagers in the year 2015, it wasn’t clear if this was meant as a prediction or a joke.

He offers some interesting thoughts on how and why all that happened.

We didn’t get flying cars, we got Blackberries and Androids. So cars don’t fly, and neither do we any more, maybe, but we can still text.

See also: Harsh reality files: In other space travel news today …

Why the human mind is not like a computer

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