Afternoon InquisitionSkepticism

AI: The Worlds have Changed

I’ve done a terrible thing. I’ve turned my son into a Pluto apologist, one who’s not happy with Neil deGrasse Tyson. And the thing is, my son is only four. He never knew of a planet named Pluto until this past weekend. I’m working on remedying the situation, but trying to explain to a young and angry child that Tyson did not lose Pluto is no small feat.

But in moments like these, it’s hard not to stop and take note of how different the world is for him than it was when I was a kid. And I’m still young enough to be of a generation that was afforded the luxury of one uphill trip and one downhill trip when commuting to school, and that path was mostly cleared of snow. 

I remember being in grade school, hearing about how one day touch screen computers would exist, and that blew my mind. Now I can’t go five minutes without using one. And I keep it in my pocket.

And when I was growing up, we had shuttles that took people to space! That’s not really a thing anymore.

There were two Germanys… in fact, Eastern Europe and most of Asia were completely different maps.

It was amazing that we could control the TV from across the room. Now I can control my TV from anywhere in the world… even though I don’t even need a TV to watch TV.

Hell, I can even watch news for 24 hours straight… and never hear anything that’s actually news. And I can stay current on the state of the world by watching Twitter.

Just two months ago, my daughter saw a pay phone for the first time… and thought it was an electric razor.

We can change the world without leaving our homes and without ever putting on pants.

I can Facetime with my mom’s poodles. And I have. Because I refuse to live in a future where I can’t talk to dogs on the phone.

I know it’s pretty cliche at this point to talk about how much times have changed, but really… really… our world is amazing.

And even though we may have lost Pluto as a planet, we gained a new perspective on the universe.

What is your favorite thing about living in the future? What is your favorite advancement over the last century? What are you still waiting to see happen? How do you feel about the state of our world? Are you nostalgic for your good ol’ days? Do you ever pine for a world with less technology? Can you admit that you still struggle to list the planets without ending with Pluto?

T-shirts with the featured and Pluto images can be purchased at Snorg Tees.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. Talking to my teenage sister the other day, she was surprised to hear that we once had an internet connection where you couldn’t use the phone at the same time.

    Not that she ever uses the landline now, obviously.

    Perhaps our greatest achievement is the ability to take all our other great achievements for granted, about five minutes after we’ve invented them.

    1. Perhaps our greatest achievement is the ability to take all our other great achievements for granted, about five minutes after we’ve invented them.


  2. It’s a tie between internet shopping and graphics programming.

    I’ve always hated shopping. The shorter the time between deciding to buy something and buying it the better. The internet has made this wonderful.

    When I was first getting into programming (with my TI-59) I bemoaned the fact that there wasn’t a decent interface or output. Things improved only slightly when I got an account on a Honeywell mainframe. The output was still text and the input was strictly line-at-a-time keyboard, but it beat the calculator. Then the Apples and the first inklings of PCs started to show up, but programming graphics was still clunky in the extreme assuming that you could get your hands on one. Now, oh my goodness. I have high level and low level graphics at my fingertips. I can download open source 3D engines. I can hack a Kinect or an EEG interface. The world is my oyster and I love it. My wife has learned to accept this.

    She: “Are you done coding, dear?”

    Me: “Do you mean work coding or my coding?”

  3. It’s a long road from Pong to Galaga to Q*Bert to Modern Warfare 3…

    Tapes to floppies to CDs to digital files…

    Starting your car with a crank to key to remote to phone…

    I’m still awaiting a moonbase or Marsbase…

  4. I was 5 years old when we got electricity. The first chore I remember having was getting a bucket of water from the well each morning.

    For me, the Good ‘Ol Days are right now, whenever Now happens to be.

    The invention I’m still waiting for is a way of recording our experiences so that we can share them directly. I wonder how long sexism, racism and the gendersex phobias would last if we could truly share eash others’ experiences.

    Pluto – meh – small fry. I shan’t miss it – but if someone stopped me on the street and asked me to list the planets, I’m pretty sure nine would pop out.

  5. My favorite and least favorite part of the future is eliminating the frequency of bar fights. Sometimes bars are more interesting with them, however due to pocket internet arguments are settled before coming to blows.

    Also, I like having information at my fingertips. Pocket internet allows me to feed my internet junkie. I know this doesn’t encompass a single technology, but that is impossible to do these days.

  6. Open internet computers are abound in many public places (fast food, libraries, coffee shops, etc.) This makes it fairly easy to connect since I can’t afford a cell phone or computer. I would like to see more affordable options for pocket internet. Kids are now receiving tablets for all their books at school. This make it easier to carry and update as needed. No more back aches from over-sized backpacks.

    I didn’t feel it was a big adjustment to drop Pluto since it was the last planet. It would have been much harder if it was in the middle somewhere.

    I often think about how far we have come in the last 30 years since I was a kid and can not even image what technology will be like in 30 more years. I just hope I am able to be apart of it.

  7. Personal computers didn’t really show up until I was in my teens. Usable internet access didn’t show up until years after that. A couple months ago, I bought a Galaxy Nexus (really whizzy Android phone). As far as I can tell, its processor might’ve qualified as a supercomputer 30-something years ago.

    So, yeah, I carry a supercomputer around with me all day. Oh, and it’s also a digital camera, a mobile phone and GPS unit, none of which even existed when I was a kid. And I routinely use this supercomputer to chat with people on nearly every continent.

    Am I nostalgic for the good old days? You mean the days when, if you wanted to look something up, you had to drive into town to the library? When shopping also meant driving into town and hoping they had something you wanted, or ordering it from a catalog and waiting 6-8 weeks for delivery. When, if you wanted to call home, you had to find a phonebooth and hope you had correct change? When folding a map was an important travel skill? When corresponding with friends in other parts of the world required stamps and a lot of patience? Yeah, not so much.

    OK, sure, there were nine planets when I was a kid. Last time I checked, there were close to EIGHT HUNDRED, eight of which happen to orbit our star. So, if the trade-off is that Pluto takes a hit, I’m OK with that.

  8. My favorite part about living in the future has to be the entertainment industry (It was a tossup between that and my extended lifespan). It’s only now that a videogame can be so enveloping that you feel as though the in-game world is bigger than the one you live in (in real life).

    There are games that are so breathtaking and beautiful that you climb in-game mountains just for the in-game view. Whether or not this can compare to real mountains is a matter of personal opinion, but it certainly comes a lot closer than the games of yore.

    Don’t worry, I still go outside, but rainy days are much easier to weather (hurr hurr) than they were twenty, hell, even five years ago.

    The extended lifespan can be nice, too, though.

  9. What is your favorite thing about living in the future? Technically it is not the future yet, and never will be, if you want to be pedantic about it. A less smart-ass answer is being able to access just about any piece of info you can imagine, and every song, and every movie, etc.

    What is your favorite advancement over the last century? Penicillin, even though it feels so much older, was discovered in 1928. So, yeah that.

    What are you still waiting to see happen? Driverless cars will be great, not sure society will ever trust them enough though.

    How do you feel about the state of our world? The future will be great for that haves and, as alwaya, pretty shitty for the have-nots.

    Are you nostalgic for your good ol’ days? Sure, for some things. I miss Marathon bars (though I now know that Britain still sells them under the name Curly Whirly, thank you internet) and 7up Gold, but most of it not so much.

    Do you ever pine for a world with less technology? No, the thing about this wonderful technology is, they all have off buttons.

    Can you admit that you still struggle to list the planets without ending with Pluto? Actually, the problem I always stuggle with is pronouncing Uranus correctly instead of the softened version that keeps kids from giggling.

    1. Actually, the problem I always stuggle with is pronouncing Uranus correctly instead of the softened version that keeps kids from giggling.

      Yeah. What the fuck is that? You don’t get to take away Pluto AND butthole jokes, astronomers.

  10. It’s a combination of smart phones (my original iPhone 8g, mainly), the internet and wikipedia: I have the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in my pocket, and I’ve had that for 5 years now!

    If it’s something knowable, I can know it within a few minutes. Random facts, locations, people, relationships…. it’s all at my fingertips. Awesome.

  11. I remember when TVs were black and white. The first TV remote control our family had was made by me, and it was a little box with a ‘mute’ switch connected to the TV via a long wire.

    The best advance of the last century: no smallpox.
    The best thing about living in the future: Our children live. (Not that I have any…) Whatever idealized past you can imagine to live in, would you really take it if it meant every child you had had a 20% chance of dying before maturity?
    (Corollary: second best thing about living in the future: no polio.)

    Legal subtitled streaming anime with little to no delay compared to the Japanese broadcast comes close, however. And it’s in colour!

  12. Elyse,

    I was kind of surprised when Pluto was demoted, but to this day, I can’t really understand why some people got so upset about it.

      1. Elyse

        Thanks, but I think I might have seen that. Its nice that you told me about it, maybe more people will see it now. It was kind of interesting.

  13. I think the level of connectedness that we’ve acheived is so utterly game-changing, I can only look back in astonishment at how I used to live without it.

    Not only do I have greater exposure to books, art, music, ideas, etc, etc, than was ever before possible, but I now have the opportunity to interact with content creators and like-minded people — and to support, engage, contribute. It’s the most incredible thing to me that the ruthless filter that everything had to flow through for centuries past is now just a blog post or a Kickstarter campaign away from existing.

    1. People keep saying that. “OMG this makes me feel so old. I can’t believe that was 20 years ago!”

      But really? I look at these things and think, “Wow. That was only 20 years ago!”

      We’ve come far in very little time.

      1. My “boy do I feel old” moment came about 14 years ago when my then then 10-year-old nephew said “you mean Sting was in a band?”

        As Billy Crystal once said (he was the voice of Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc. for you wippersnappers, he used to make with the jokes, anyway) age spots suddenly erupted on my hands and my sciatica started acting up.

      2. That we have. That we have. Humankind has come so far so fast, and from what I read about recent advances in computer chip technology, we may well be in for an even wilder ride in a shorter time very soon.

  14. My favorite thing about living in the future is that I don’t have to lose friends due to distance. All that technology makes it easy to keep up with each other’s lives. Yeah, I could write letters and mail them, but that always tapered off as we got busy. Now, a friend who moved halfway across the country can still join our monthly writing group, as she did tonight.

    My favorite advancement over the last century…. hmmm…. I think I have to go with vaccines and modern medicine.

    I am still waiting for furniture that automatically moulds to my body thus insuring comfort every time.

    I think we live in one of the safest times in history but there is plenty of room for improvement.

    Are you nostalgic for your good ol’ days? Hell no.

    Do you ever pine for a world with less technology? Not a whole world, but I appreciate technology free vacations.

    I still want my very enterprising mother to send us nine pizzas, but I guess nachos will have to do.

    1. Luxury! My Very Evil Master Sent Us Ninjas!

      Seriously, though, I love the internet. I love the breadth and, occasionally, depth of information that we have at our fingertips. I still want to get it cybernetically implanted, and look forward to being able to open a car door by thinking at it, but, hey.

  15. Before word processing I rarely wrote. Since, well, I’ve written all sorts of stuff; hundreds of songs, half-finished one act plays, letters to the editor, a few thousand words of several novels, thousands of blogs, FB updates, tweets, webpages, etc. For some reason, sitting in front of screen watching words appear as I type is vastly more satisfying to me than using a pen or pencil, and the creatively comes just as easily, if not more so. Judging from the billions of words that are poured out daily, around the globe, I would have to assume that I’m not alone.

    However, the inevitability about modern communication technology is that it’s replaceable, and it will always be displaced by the newest thing to to come along, in a way that the singular luxury which I consider to be the very pinnacle of modern civilization cannot be. It’s something that many of us take for granted, that most of our grandparents had, and we’ve rarely been without; hot running water coming out of a shower head.

  16. I enjoy blowing my nephews’ minds with old tech. I showed the 15-year-old a 78 RPM record, and he had no clue. He has a passing familiarity with 33s and 45s, but had never seen a 78. I love that tech from my lifetime is so alien to kids today. I grew up on Atari and Activision video games, and learned programming in Basic on an Apple IIE in high school. It’s so amazing how far computers and electronics have come in the last 30 years.

  17. The ability to find info on the internet. Hands down. I can’t imagine writing my thesis paper if I hadn’t had constant access to online articles, journals, and online book rentals from other colleges.

  18. I actually accept Pluto’s demotion. Instead of the nine planets there are now the 8 planets and 5 dwarf planets:
    Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris (This is in rough order of distance, but the order of the last 5 likes to change sometimes. Eris has the furthest aphelion, but it’s perihelion is actually closer than Makemake’s). It made sense to make Pluto a dwarf planet because Eris is actually about twice the size of pluto.

    I would probably consider sewers to be the greatest human invention of all time.

  19. In the 90s I travelled to Australia and New Zealand. In order to send information to people about my travels, I had to write actual letters and postcards. I kept a journal of my travels, glued in photos/postcards etc. and sent them home for family members to read. When anyone wanted to send us a letter, they addressed it to "Main Post Office" in the next town on our route, and we had to pick it up at the post office in the town. I developed my film photos and sent them home, or I sent only the films and my mom would develop them for me, and I wouldn't get to see them until I got home at the end of the 8 month trip. We actually had a travel BOOK that we found information in about our destinations.  There was no such things as blogs, email (well, there was, but it wasn't widely used), informational websites to browse, internet cafes, digital photo storage websites. All of this was only two short decades ago! 

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