Airports, Airplanes, and the Future.

I wonder if the transition to the new year makes people more aware of the passage of time. Last week, when it still was last year, several friends of mine expressed their disappointment at what has become the future they once envisioned. One of them was comparing the present with 2001 A Space Odyssey, and another one with The Jetsons cartoons. “Where is my trip to the moon, where is my flying car?” It seemed to them that something was missing from what was promised to them, like the promise was not kept. Even though I am very skeptic about predictions of the future, I would question them on why would they choose The Jetsons instead of Blade Runner, where I can find pointers to several things that are already happening. Maybe they were longing for an optimistic, safe and hygienic version of the future, discarding any possible catastrophic or apocalyptic vision. I personally don’t remember very well the time when I used to dream about the future. I can’t recall if I had my own idea of the future, or if I was borrowing my expectations from somewhere else like my friends seemed to do, but I know now that I don’t put much effort in giving a shape to the future anymore, perhaps because it always turns out to become something else, and I’d rather wonder with surprise than frustrate myself when confronting my failed expectations, and I’d rather put my energy towards working on a better today.

When I think about it, there is a difference between the prediction of something that can possibly happen, and the prediction of how things can be. The former one doesn’t really need much imagination. To speculate about if there is going to rain tomorrow or even if a pandemic disease is going to devastate humanity 17 years from now is very different from pretending to guess (or estimate) how humanity is going to be living 50 years from now. Not only what problems will be faced but what changes need to be made, and how much progress in what direction is to be expected. How things should be.

After comparing the experience of commercial air transportation between what is shown in Kubrick’s Space Odyssey movie, and what actually happens when you go to the airport and fly on a plane, I can’t help it but sympathize with my friend’s frustration. Forget about going to the moon, and forget that 2007 is 6 years after 2001 (I can’t see much progress from then to now). Just look at the difference in service. The only four things I have seen changing in air travel since I was a child are that people can’t smoke in a plane anymore (what were they thinking?), the quality of service has decreased substantially, and the volume of humans has increased at the same pace, together with absurd security measures. Maybe too much has been spent in liquid detectors and there is no money left to fix those holes in the ceiling? Not only there are who-knows-how-many times more people swarming all airport terminals, but all of them have to take off their shoes, throw away their mascara, and take out their laptops. The transition to the new year is also a good excuse for long distance travel to a lot of people, and a fantastic opportunity to experience the subtle changes of social behavior in our fast paced, technology driven civilization. I remember the year 2000, when laptops were something not everyone would have, how normal it would be for me to browse around the airport terminals, find a comfy spot, connect my laptop to a nearby power outlet, and enjoy countless hours of digital activity and cappucinos waiting for my flight without having to drain my battery. Some years later, I noticed how the power outlets started to become scarce in some airports. Today, people hunt for the remaining outlet that some maintenance electrician forgot to shut down, and sit in the floor by the bathroom door and the hallway as they check their emails or stare at their spreadsheets. Not me, I have decided to go back to books… no need for batteries, and tons of fun.

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