The future is a moving target. It recedes towards the horizon as old futures become the present. What seems futuristic now will be present tomorrow but there’ll always be the idea of futurity, the things that we orient towards. The anthropologist Alfred Gell once described this as ‘enchantment’; the present that creates its own futures.
With the invention of the car came the idea of the flying car and we set off almost immediately on the path of developing the flying car, or the robot car, or the green car. These futures are reinforced and made material by cultural imaginaries. The Jetsons showed us how the flying car should look, sound and function and we built our expectations around that. A famous, but perhaps apocryphal, story about the first flip phone by Motorola tells of how the engineers couldn’t understand why people weren’t buying it until they were told that users expected it to open like the Tricorders on Star Trek. One quick redesign later and flip phones were everywhere. Go to any technology fair and you’ll find designers and developers working on future interfaces drawing influence from the artificial intelligence of Spike Jonze’s Her or the gestural interface of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. There’s a feedback loop between the reality of technology and our expectations of it. Life should be like it is on screen.