Imagining Tomorrow: Why the Technological Future We Imagine Is Seldom the One We Get

A. Bowdoin Van Riper

Synesis: A Journal of Science, Technology, Ethics, and Policy 2013; 4: T21-28

We routinely try, as a society, to imagine the technological future, and we just as routinely get that future spectacularly wrong: confidently predicting wonders that never come to pass, and overlooking inventions that transform the world. We fail, moreover, in predictable ways: By assuming that tomorrow’s problems will be the same as today’s; by assuming that, once invented, new technology will invariably be used; and by envisioning technological change as uniformly linear and gradual. These failures are reflected in the depictions of the future of space travel that blossomed in American popular culture in the late 1940s and 1950s, which envisioned a Space Age with a far different scope and tempo than the one began with the launch of Sputnik in 1957.


Keywords: science fiction, literature, pop culture, future