Skepticism

Ten Years Ago…

Ten years ago I’d never have thought everyone would carry around a mobile telephone. I’d never have guessed that an encyclopedia which anyone can contribute to would become the most referenced thing on the internet (the internet being something that I didn’t predict would become the centre of my work and life). I didn’t think for a second that television progs would be available on demand, or that pausing and rewinding live TV would be standard. It never occurred to me that I’d own an affordable, pocket-sized device which could fit and play my entire CD collection and a large number of movies. I never thought I’d find friends from all over the world and keep in daily contact with them at the click of a button, and who could have known that I’d be able to play a Playstation game with ten of them at once?

I didn’t guess that by 2009 I’d do almost 100% of my shopping on the internet, or that Rick Astley would become known to entirely new generation. Ten years ago I had no idea that I’d be able to simulate a snowboard in my own home using a Wii Balance Board. I’d have laughed at the suggestion that I’d be able to read a minute-by-minute commentary of Stephen Fry’s personal life written by him and pumped live into my phone. It would have amazed me to know that within ten years there would be a vaccine for cervical cancer, or that the President of the USA would have the middle name ‘Hussein’. 

I would not have thought that at any point would evolution be under attack, or that the British Government would find the need to intervene to stop religious propaganda making its way to classrooms. I couldn’t have guessed that the IRA would no longer be the terrorist threat people lost sleep over, or that a racist political party would gain leverage as a result. It would have astounded me to learn that children’s health and lives could be under threat again due to decreasing MMR vaccination, or that eyesight defects could be fixed by lasers in a lunchtime. 

I’d have been shocked to see a woman walking down a British street covered entirely from head to foot, hands and face behind a veil, and wouldn’t have guessed that I’d one day pose (twice!) for a risque calendar. If you’d said that Big Brother would still be going, I’d have dismissed your claims, but if you’d told me that within ten years families across the world would be sitting down together to watch new Doctor Who, I’d have said “oh I do hope that’s true!”.

We’re in tough time, folks. But we’re also in amazing times. Whatever hardships are ahead, let’s not forget that time brings dramatic changes both good and bad, and the human race endeavours, aspires, builds and progresses. It’s sometimes one step back, but it’s always two steps forward. I have the luxury of living in a country where opportunities and liberty are at their best, and I don’t want my gratitude for that to be drowned by the sea of media doom and gloom. Here’s to the next ten years, whatever they bring.

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27 Comments

  1. Ten years ago, I was seven :) And now I’m not, but I’m rational and clever and full of awe and wonder at the world. And that’s darn cool.

    Wonder what I’ll be like in another ten? Hopefully slightly less stranded from my home in the awful UK snow… Maybe an author. Or a teacher. Or both.

  2. 10 years ago I was graduating from high school and already an old hat on the internet. 3 years later I had a cell phone and had many, many, many friends in the “dot com” bubble. Nothing technology wise that has happened since I wa 14 (when we first got the internets) has really surprised me.

    Indeed, I was one of the first to use Amazon! I used to order books and CDs online and send money orders for payment ‘cuz the nearest place to buy books and CDs was almost an hour away.

    Thank you, internets, for keeping me in the know when I lived in a small town! (We were one of the VERY few who not only had a computer but were connected to the internet.)

  3. A lot of the things you cite were pretty predictable 10 years ago (1999 was the tail end of the dot-com boom, where a lot of the ideas that seeded our current technology were planted). And a lot weren’t.

    My favorite is that we have a US President admitting — without mincing words — that he made a mistake (“I screwed up”. Music to my ears!). I’d never have guessed that!

    I’m not surprised that Evolution is under attack (though I’m surprised at how thinly-veiled the attack is) — I’m pleasantly surprised at the response of the scientific community, which has been unified, swift, calm, and unwavering. I’d have expected a lot more snark.

    So, while your examples aren’t good ones for me, I definitely resonate with your point: we do live in really amazing times! There’s a lot of crap out there that’s depressing, but there’s a lot of excitement and hope too — and the good things outweigh the bad, IMO.

  4. Louis CK does a bit on that subject. It starts off “We live in an amazing, amazing world, and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots.” It’s plastered all over youtube.

    It’s sometimes hard to gain perspective when you’re in the middle of things. Last night, I spent quite a bit of time sitting at my Ubuntu laptop grumbling about how hard it is to get Twitter to receive updates from Gtalk. Ten years ago, Twitter, Gtalk, Ubuntu and laptops even remotely as powerful as mine didn’t exist.

    When I stop to think about it, it amazes me the sorts of things I’ve got lying around the house. I’m not even sure how many lasers I’ve got. At least one in each DVD player, CD player and computer. And then there’s one on the level on my workbench. (insert obligatory “frickin’ lasers” joke here)

  5. Steve, last month I bought a USB memory stick with 8GB for a few pounds. I remember just a few years ago discussing how amazing it would be to be able to get 1GB on a computer. Now I have 8GB in my pocket and that’s really nothing.

  6. @autotroph: I think it hearkens back to what Rebecca was saying about living in our personal bubbles. Ten years ago I was leaving a career in the theatre and starting one in marketing, so wasn’t particularly exposed to technology, and Britain has been a secular country for a long time so it’s amazing to have a rise of fundy ID people.

  7. My predictions for the next 10 yrs:

    Major terrorist attack-nuclear/chemical/biological-in a western country, probably US or UK.

    very little will NOT have the prefix tele- in front of it. Possibly even telecooking. You can program your k itchen to make dinner ready for you by the time you get home.

    Bigfoot and Nessie will remain in the pop culture, but still no hard proof.

    Some massive space flight, either back to the moon or to mars-the trip will be manned.

    Some unintentional/natural catastrophe. Maybe a US earthquake, maybe nanotech gone wild, maybe an engineering disaster.

    Big brother may not be watching you, but he will at least have one eye open.

    “green” will be outdated. Something will have taken its place, but green will be “so 5 five minutes ago”.

    toys will be so much COOLER!!!!!

    Ok, in 10 years, lets compare this to the “great psychics of the world”, and see how I do.

  8. I doubt it will happen in the next ten years, but I certainly hope that in my lifetime I get to see a human being walk on Mars. I know the scientific justification of such a trip is questionable, but there’s something undeniably profound about the “if we can do that, what can’t we do” spirit such ventures inspire. Besides, I was born in late ’69 and feel like I just missed the last big show.

  9. Well thats just ten years, I hope the pace keeps increasing.
    When I was a child, only AM radio, analog TV, and leaded gas cars.

    We have come so far, as a matter of fact it is so positive that I think it is pulling me out of my midlife non-crisis.

  10. Ten years ago I was using dial-up. I can’t remember if cable internet wasn’t available in my neighborhood or if i was just broke.
    I love skype video chat, ten years ago that was not happening. Now I use it every day.

  11. “I’d have been shocked to see a woman walking down a British street covered entirely from head to foot, hands and face behind a veil”

    You can always spot the Southerners. The veil’s been standard islamic dress for women since they came to the UK in the late 60’s to drive down wages in Mill Towns and keep the mills profitable.

  12. Thank you for the message. I agree with the sentiments – tough times AND amazing times. The kinds of challenges immediately ahead are exactly those that ingenuity and hard work are able to solve. As long as we’re not talking about longevity pills, collapsing social order or doomsday scenarios, I believe we have reason for optimism.

    My friends do not dispute the real difficulties we all face. However, when they complete the “rant o’ the day” they have now started adding a “but…” into their conversation that had been missing just a month ago.

    For me, this is a collective acknowledgement of the real opportunities that lie ahead.

    Y_S_G

  13. @russellsugden: You can spot a Southerner? That’s impressive, given I’m from Birmingham, the most ethnically diverse city in the country. Pretty sure that’s Midlands, but I guess it depends where your start point is.

    Anyway, the style of burka I am talking about shows no skin whatsoever, not even eyes or hands. I believe it’s an Afghanistan style but I may be wrong. The woman is covered in black entirely, with black gloves and no eyeholes (the material where the eyes are is a sort of thick mesh). You cannot see a single scrap of human being. I did not see this in Birmingham until a few years ago, and it shocked me even then, although I’ve been exposed to many degrees of headcovering and face veils. To not see the eyes or hands, though…sorry, that was not commonplace in Britain ten years ago. It’s not even commonplace now but certainly more so than historically.

  14. Ten years ago…

    …I thought the Space Shuttle would have already been retired for a reusable SSTO like the VentureStar.

    …I wouldn’t have thought I’d see Burt Rutan open commercial spaceflight to the rich…and maybe someday to the rest of us, with the help of Sir Richard Branson. (If you’re reading this, Sir Richard, I can’t get my resume past your Virgin America HR people! Call me!)

    …I wouldn’t have expected to be a college graduate. I didn’t go back to college until 2000.

    …I wouldn’t have expected to be in IT on the East Coast instead of the airline business in the Midwest. Or to be this far away from my kids/grandkids.

    …I never thought I’d own a hybrid car…or even know what one was.

    …I did jump on the Internet as fast as I could. I had been waiting for it ever since I read my Clarke and Asimov!

  15. 12 years ago I was sitting on a bus in Denmark. A rough-looking character carrying a plastic bag full of beer bottles pulled a mobile phone from his pocket and started chatting away. That’s when I realised that pretty soon _everyone_ would have one.

    I wouldn’t have been that surprised to see a woman walking down a British street veiled head-to-foot, but I might have been surprised to discover that she had applied for a job as a school-teacher.

    Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed that I would own a flat-screen TV, far less that it would have such crappy picture and sound quality that I would miss my old large-screen CRT TV, which we almost had to give away.

    Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed that I would one day be fluent in a foreign language and have a degree from a foreign university.

  16. @tkingdoll: Yeap Birmingham is the South.

    I’m from Leeds, the same “manor” as the 7/7 bombers infact, and full veil is standard. As are “honour” killings and female circumscion.

    If anything, in the last few year there has been an increase (albeit slight) in the number of young women not wearing the full veil.

    Of course it’s a complex issue, you’d need a book to completely cover everything, but broadly speaking there have been two types of immigrants from the sub-continent, from the educated form colonial admistrators class and landless rural farm labourers (and small numbers of ethnic indian imperial administrator class from Kenya). The former have assimilated as professionals (mainly in the non industrial south) and the later have remained ghettoised in former industrial towns in the north. Dewsbury, where I live is the classic example.

    One of the causes of 7/7 was/is the lack of jobs for muslims since the decline of industry (leaving only taxi driving open to them)

    @D-Notice: OK they didn’t come with the intention of making the mills profitable. The Mill Owners who organised their importation from India/Pakistan (to work in their mills and live in their slums) had that in mind because the 50’s saw most of the population in industrial towns move up the social ladder and take better paid jobs in other (usually light engineering) parts of industry.

    At the time most did not intend to remain forever in the UK, the plan was to have them come and work while the textiles industry restructured to be able to compete with other countries. However the wages paid were so low and the profits so high, the mill owners chose not to invest in new technology and 30 years later lack of investment destroyed the industry.

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