There was word late last week that our new President would, thank God, be allowed to keep his Blackberry. Initially there were security concerns, but those evaporated in light of the fun anticipated by the Secret Service guys in replying to Viagra e-mails sent to the President. “Regarding your message subject lined “Bone Daddy”: I don’t have any ‘performance’ problems, since I’m the newly-elected leader of the free world. But we’re sending the IRS over to have a look at your “research center”…” President Obama will get to carry his modern pocket communicator and all the distraction that goes with it. To paraphrase the campaign: Can we have the future moving backwards in any way? No, we can’t!
For a generation of boomers raised on science fiction films and NASA footage, the future is always kind of smooth and cool… and it works. And when it became clear that America would have its first African-American president, many reasoned that the event proved once and for all that you can’t keep a brighter tomorrow down. Obama’s election feels like we’re whooshing into the future with a vengeance. This is much bigger than being able to “Clap on” and “Clap off” your bedroom lights.
That’s assuming of course that we solve all of our current economic and global issues before somehow setting off the Doomsday Device… which was also a feature of those same sci-fi movies. Back then, the “DD” was some kind of planet-destroying weapon or bomb. Now we realize it might be the timer ticking on our credit and loan systems. But even if our streets overflow with electric cars before we’re all living in cardboard boxes, there are signs that the immediate future—while inevitably moving forward—may in some ways be very old fashioned.
Have a look at some of what’s back from the past and bigger than ever. An insurance commercial touting “the basics” shows a garage basketball backboard. There’s “Board game nights” spent at home. Board games with dice and spinners, not Wii or Nintendo. Not just for families with kids, but for adults looking to save money on dates. Look also for the new home version of “Madoff’s Millions” where players take money from other players before the little plastic SEC man wakes up from his nap.
Hottest new trend in movies? Old-fashioned cute dog stories. “Marley and Me” followed by “Hotel for Dogs” and both preceded by “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” Digital manipulations aside, these stories are retro in almost every other regard. A re-release of Disney’s “Old Yeller” would fit beautifully into the current movie landscape of laughter, tears and barking and it could be updated with that Springsteen song from “The Wrestler” that didn’t get nominated. “Have you ever seen a one-legged dog… Ol’ Yeller… nice feller…”
Another dimension of modern life moving in retrograde is retail shopping. It’s been predicted over and over that convenient push-button Internet sales would crush brick and mortar retail. But now it looks as though there just won’t be much retail, period. I know it’s not good, and it’s not a happy sign. But a female friend told me that if the whole mentality about expressing material success through designer labels went away, it would be a better world for her kids. I told her I agreed, and the fact that the shirt I was wearing was older than her son proved it. Either way, people are going to be hanging onto their clothing and shoes a little longer for the time being, and that sounds pretty old/new fashioned to me.
Theoretically the future should always be safer, but current lapses make you wonder if we’re as far along with that as we’d like. In defense of the FDA, there’s a lot of peanut butter produced each day that doesn’t make you sick. Considering the mountains of food and drugs that we consume, the level of safety is pretty impressive. But the larger point may be that we live in a time when you can send a picture of a jar of contaminated peanut butter around the world in seconds, but you can’t stop the new guy at the factory from sneezing into a vat of “Chunky Wild Style” and then shipping it out of town.
In our new old-fashioned future, look for some old political stand-bys to make a comeback. Last week Obama overturned a ban on U.S support to international groups that provide abortion services around the world; a very modern step against the darkness beginning with Reagan in 1984. Obama might easily have invited the cast of “Maude” to that reversal signing since it immediately provoked the contentious pro-life voices of the past.
But maybe you can interpret this sign of progress for me: Two weeks ago I was walking my dog late at night and came upon a technician working near the top of a phone pole from his cradle in a “cherry picker” lift. When he came down to street level, I asked if everything was all right. He explained that cable TV service for Marina del Rey—Hi Def, Super Hi Def, On-Demand, Premium Channels—was out. Already past midnight, and he had not found the break located somewhere in the length of cable he was examining. What causes a failure in those kinds of futuristic super-systems, I wondered. Demand overload? Some interruption in the fiber optic net? “Squirrels, chewing the line” he replied. The future’s here. Bring a BB gun.