Monday, February 5, 2007

Space Age Technology

I had a William Gibson moment this afternoon. One of my favorite phrases is "The sky above the port was the color of a television, tuned to a dead channel." If you're a cranky old bastard like me, you remember when televisions were analog and if you didn't have it tuned in correctly, you got static. The static was gray, and you better like your static gray because it only came in one color. However, if you turn a new television to a channel that you don't get, the screen goes bright, clear blue. Most people reading the opening to Neuromancer now wonder why it's the most beautiful sky ever. The phrase means the opposite of what it did when it was written.

Today, I realized that the same thing happened to the phrase "space age". There was a time (say, up until about October 4, 1957) when Space Age meant "some time in the distant future when we all drive around in our rocket cars". Of course, this was before people realized that the average person can't pilot their Sport Utility Car in 2 dimensions, much less 3, when they are talking on their cell phone.

The phrase was so powerful, however, that people failed to realize that we were actually in the Space Age until long after it was over. You could argue that we are still in the Space Age, but you would be wrong. Actual space flight is something that NASA only engages in grudgingly, if they absolutely have to, and other space programs are busy trying to fund themselves by being the world's most expensive carnival ride for the very, very wealthy.

So here we are in 2007 [6 and 8 years after 2001: A Space Odyssey (filmed in 1968) and Space: 1999 (last season: 1977), respectively] and people are still using "space age" to mean "futuristic" instead of "peaked in 1969, going downhill ever since."

5 comments:

Johnny Yen said...

It makes me want to party like it's 1999-- you know, when I was still in my thirties, and could have more than two drinks without needing a nap.

Flannery Alden said...

I'm still waiting for my hovercraft and/or teleportation.

Erik Donald France said...

Space Age or bust! Nice work -- carry on . . . . .

Cheers from Robocop central, Motown, Earth.

vikkitikkitavi said...

I'm still waiting for my jet pack. I distinctly remember seeing a film strip in school in the 60s that said that in the next century we would each have our own personal jet packs.

Johnny Yen said...

Atwood got me to read Neuromancer years ago, but joked about how at the beginning he talked about the guy having something like 10k of "hot memory" with him. I regularly walk around with a gig usb memory stick in my pocket.

And I'm with Vikki-- where the hell's my jet pack?

Erik-- "I want something big that gets real shitty gas mileage-- like an SUX2000!"-- one of my favorite lines from Robocop.