Monday, July 10, 2017

Predicting the Future


Shopping at home, plugging in your car, reaching for a phone in your pocket where cash used to be, watching a round disk vacuum your den while you change channels by speaking your selection.  These are things Boomers saw on Star Trek or the Jetsons in the 1960s but might not have expected to become reality, even as recently as ten years ago.

Shopping at home isn't new; remember or heard of the Sears catalog?  You'd flip though pages of product pictures and descriptions in a book the size of a telephone directory (hmmm, remember those?). You would phone in or mail in your choices and likely write a check to pay for your purchase; two weeks later your stuff would arrive at your door.

Shopping at home today? Browse the products on your mobile device, tap your choices and the Complete Your Purchase button, which also verifies your stored address and credit card number and two days later your stuff arrives at your door. Some items ordered through Amazon Prime can arrive on the same day.

Did we see any of this coming?  I predicted a cashless society for a "what's ahead in the new century" radio news feature back in 1999. We're almost there. During a dinner conversation with friends a few nights ago, I learned that only two of the four of us still write checks. I'm one of the two but I only write two checks a month and I could easily pay those online like I do with my other bills.

Breaking news this week: Volvo announced that it will stop producing gasoline-only vehicles after 2019. Starting just two years from now, all of their cars will be either all electric or electric/gas hybrids. Did you see that coming?  Will other car makers follow that lead? Most major brands now have hybrid options. The rental car on my most recent vacation was a Ford Focus hybrid. I used less than 1/8 of a tank of gas in four days. Friends recently purchased a Toyota Prius hybrid and it uses mostly the electric charge in city driving. Their gas mileage averages 89 mpg. Plug in cars ... who knew?

Anyone remember the days of four TV channels instead of four hundred? And the chore of walking across the room to change the channel and the TV section of the daily newspaper as the source of which program was on which channel and when?

Now I can press Guide on the remote to learn that information from the comfort of my sofa. Or press the microphone button and ask for a show, channel or genre. Press another button to record the show so I can watch it Tuesday at 7:32 instead of Sunday at 9.

And then there's that hockey puck sitting on the table next to my sofa. Alexa, lower the volume. Alexa, who starred in Parenthood? On my phone: Hey Siri, what the weather forecast tomorrow?  On my laptop: Cortina. I can use voice commands to make music choices in one of my cars, if I could figure out how to do it.

Are we on the Enterprise?  Where's Spock?

The pace of technology development is staggering. The older we get, the more difficult it is to keep up. And sometimes the less we care about keeping up. I know three people who still use flip phones. They might also have albums. I have 1400 of my favorite songs on my iPhone. FYI, I wrote the first draft of this blog post on that same phone.

"What's a blog?" asked Gibbs in an NCIS episode just a few years ago.

I also used my phone to buy tickets to a musical while taking a break from writing this. And last week I ordered a car with my iPhone.

Why are there no books on the Enterprise?  Kindle.

MY question today is: what's in our future?  Can we predict it?  Will we just think of something and a device will respond? Imagine a TV show or a song, and there it is. We'll enjoy that entertainment from the comfort of the driver seat as our fully charged solar electric car takes us to our destination without any action or interference from us?  These technologies are already developed and being tested. Are they decades away or just a few years?

Will boomers adjust? Or will we give up. After watching me try to reprogram the instrument panel on my hybrid rental car, my 70+ cousin told me her current car, a 2007 Cadillac, will be her last. She can't quite picture not having to use a key to start a car.

I won't make any predictions right now. But I will say this: if we can think it, it can probably happen.

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