Media future media past

As I remember, when a boy in the early 1950s, my Eagle Comic subscription came with membership of the Eagle Space Club an organisation that guaranteed pre-paid passage on the very first passenger flight to Mars (although other planets were even then available, it was always Mars). I think this pre-Ryanair bargain ticket was supposed to be honoured sometime in the 1980s although to be fair I’ve since lost the paperwork.

Anyway, the great Eagle Comic along with muscular Christianity, post-imperial ennui, Dan Dare pilot of the future, Luck of the Legion,  a cricketing hero (whose name I forget), PC 49, straight bats, left-hooks and lantern jaws that every week pervaded its pages, are all long gone. Except, that is, for lingering UKIP friendly empire-fancying.

But Eagle’s promised trip to Mars was not the only broken contract. Throughout my boyhood, then as a youth and again as a young man, I was repeatedly promised the same three key technological advances. These would definitely usher in a brave new world.

In order these were:

(i) Jet Packs (alternately Jet-Pax, Jet Paks or Jett Paxx): Personal transporters in a convenient back-pack would effortlessly and affordably propel everyone through the air and into a bright sunlit future.

(ii) Nutro-Pills: all our daily, weekly or even monthly, nutritional needs completely supplied with one convenient small pill. No more chewing nonsense, kitchen or dining room mess, eating utensils, crockery or napkins, cooking smells, cooks, cooking or cookers, washing-up or marital squabbling.

(iii) Vid-Phones: say farewell to secretive yawning or eye-rolling, mouthpiece covering, whispered aside or covert gesture; and see a real-time movie of your caller on phone-booth video screen.

I’m sure Robots were also mentioned, but rather than promised as our floor-polishing friends or automatic web-servers, these were warned against as potentially revolting servo-slaves.

So, dressed as we would be in our metallic-silver (or perhaps bronze) onesies, these were the three promised technological breakthroughs that would signal our arrival in the Space Age. Oh! And landing on the Moon. We did do that one.

Well, although Jet-Pax were built and tested by our military/leisure/toy industry – often by test-pilots who hovered heroically in metallic silver/bronze/white onesies – too much fuel and too many bums were burned in the process for the technology to be deemed economic, fireproof or fun.

Like Jet Pax, the idea of Nutro-Pills also never really took off. It turned out that too many people (even married couples) actually enjoyed cooking and eating (if not washing up).

It was the video-phone (Dan Dare’s communication device of choice) that did take off, and with far less whooshy hoo-ha than any sporadic attempt to master the physics and commodification of personal Jet Pax powered flight. And better yet, with the ubiquitous smart-phone in every pocket, handbag or onesie-holster we didn’t have to trudge (or hover) to a Space-Age pavement kiosk to attain instantaneous audio-visual communication with bank manager – do these fabled creatures really exist? –  colleague, friend, family or loved one.

But I don’t remember anybody making that much fuss, or even especially noticing the introduction of Skype or Face Time as paradigm marking the Arrival of the Future. This particular science-fiction trope – the Vid-Phone – seemed to have been historically and psychologically submerged in general bewilderment and the background noise of a spiralling ecology of ever-evolving communication technology.

Equilibrium is thus punctured by stealth. Yet more is to come as we still await the full Me-Me-Me-Movie experience. Or did we? With the all-immersive selfie the future has already been here .

A personal-to-personal phone is now promised for the “Total Selfie Experience (TSE) for today’s solipsist” in the very very near future. Sam-pple Inc. tomorrow pre-announced the iMe 1 just as soon as wrinkles in the space-time continuum were ironed out (that will remind me, time-travel was also a signifier of futurity) when in “Our Own Good Time” (OOGT), we all endlessly chatted to, rolled our eyes at and made covert gestures in the direction of our lanterned-jawed selves.

Remember, I heard it here last.



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