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Publishing Date : 03 September, 2019

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White

Growing up in the sixties  I was fascinated with sci-fi television series and movies – Star Trek, Lost In Space, Space Family Robinson, The Jetsons, My Favourite Martian. 

With America’s eye firmly on the goal of landing on the moon, the entertainment industry jumped on the bandwagon and watching these programmes, it all seemed suddenly possible.  In a few short years we’d be commuting to work in helicopters, our homes would be cleaned by robots and we’d be jetting off to Mars for our holidays.

As for plastic, it was the wonder of the age.  There was nothing it couldn’t replace, it was cheap durable (and how!) and was the material of the future (again, and how!).  We even wore it in the form of PVC.  Now 60 years on, what to do with the all the excess is a global problem and one that may encourage us to move to another planet just to get away from all the earthbound plastic!

Separating science from science fiction, our lives are very different today than back then but not in the ways depicted on screen.  There is not a day that goes by when I am not reminded of what life was like years ago. I look at my cell phone and ask myself how we ever coped without these, ditto the microwave, internet, cheap international travel almost everything that is central to our lives.  But as all these inventions came along, there were also the naysayers who predicted they would be five-minute wonders.

Here are probably some of the worst technology predictions of all time:

“The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys” – said by the not so visionary William Preece of the British Post Office. “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of looking at a plywood box every night.”  Darryl Zannizk of 20th Century Fox  (ah,  but that was before the 55” slimline colour screen with Dolby surround sound!)

“Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop. “ Time magazine (I buy pretty much everything online) So what are we to make of a new report on the future of technology commissioned by Samsung  which predicts that  hoverboard- based sports and holiday in space (where have we heard that one before!) are some of the things which will be common by 2069?   Other predictions are for mass scale production of 3D printed organs, implants to monitor our health and self-cleaning homes. 

Transport will have been completely revolutionised with underwater transport systems being in use between the UK and mainland Europe (if they are still talking after Brexit) and other regions where high speed pods will easily transport travellers between some countries in less than an hour. Flying taxis and buses will also be in use in urban areas to cut congestion while more long-distance travel will use reusable rockets flying in the upper atmosphere and at high speeds, cutting travel time between London and New York to 30 minutes. I wonder if Air Botswana’s arrival and departure record will be sorted by then? All of this, it is prophesised, will be part of everyday life in a mere half century. 

My first waving red flag with all of this is what will be the cost to the planet the carbon footprint etc.?   It is sad that except for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. scarcely any politicians are talking of this issue while the Amazonian rainforests are burning and we elect into power people who are in denial, don’t care about these issues and refuse to act.

And too many of us don’t care either. We use and reuse without thinking of the costs with our ’ it’s just one plastic straw’  mentality, without considering how many others are saying the same, how much of our daily lives is encased in and invested in, perpetual plastic when once the dream was that of perpetual motion.  Do you know there are no technological or economic barriers to converting entirely to clean renewable energy sources, same as there is not one reason to stick with plastic straws - as with everything it is whether there is societal or political will.

One prediction which scientists did seem to get right was climate change. Forty years ago a group of scientists produced the Charney Report.  Now, it was not nearly as impressive or sexy  as a moon landing and didn’t have millions waiting with bated breath for the results which firmly established the science of global warming. So some predications, it appears, we are willing to entertain and embrace ...others we need time to warm to the idea a bit more and yes, the pun was intended.

Here is the thing.  In our thinking about the future we have to ensure that our plans, innovations designs etc are aligned with our future survival and to the world we want to bequeath to generations to come. I am all for flying taxis, reusable rockets and underwater highways provided it can be delivered at absolute minimum cots to the planet –otherwise it’s not worth the ultimate price  All of those inventions to be sound like they’re going to need a helluva lot more plastic, not less – imagine driving underground in  anything at all corrosive.

Robot construction, formerly utilising  metal, is now using durable plastic cases, just like every other electronic device we own or use.   And as for the miracle that is the 3D Printer, guess what everything is printed in – that’s right, more plastic. It’s time for a drastic re-think of where we are going and which technologies are truly beneficial long-term and stretch the term ‘natural resources’ to embrace all the alternative materials and methodologies that are so readily available and so sustainable.

Oh, and just for the record, I hate Sci-Fi moves these days.



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