Monday, October 15, 2007

If I'm living in the future, where's my rocket car?

Clicking around in the blogosphere I wound up at the MSNBC article about Roombas and their owners. Roombas are those disk-like robotic vacuum cleaners made by the Irobot company - the name is taken from a 1950 Isaac Asimov story collection which contains his three rules of robotics (which is a term Asimov created for a 1941 short story.) The MSNBC story notes that some owners of Roombas name them, and some even dress them up. That sounds weird, but then the article went on to say that Roombas make men enthusiastic about vacuuming. That's enough to make me want one of each: a Roomba and a man to do the vacuuming.

Roombas remind me of the 1950 Ray Bradbury story "There will come soft rains," in which a fully automated house survives a nuclear holocaust that has killed all humans. The house communicates with the (non-existent) residents by voice, and in the absence of responding voices, continues on its way each day, serving the default menus, clearing meals, etc. No roombas in that house though: it has fully automated small mice to clean away debris. (I forget if the lawn mowing is done by fully automated goats.)

In my opinon, Ray Bradbury is the most prescient science fiction author since Jules Verne. In his 1953 Fahrenheit 451, he foresaw all those portable music devices we plug into our ears -- now Ipods, but first, Walkmans. I just saw Fahrenheit 451 on a DVD -- one of the special features included on it is a 2002 interview with Bradbury. He mentioned that when the Sony Walkman first came out, some reps from the company came to him, showed him the device, and said "Fahrenheit 451! Fahrenheit 451!." Let's hope his prescience doesn't foreshadow firemen who burn books.

In the short story "The Veldt," which came out in 1951, Bradbury took television and turned it into wall-sized screens one could not just watch, but could also interact with --- and, in the end, enter into. Children of course loved it, and adults worried and didn't quite get it --- does any of this sound familiar today? Fahrenheit also had large screens, plus the small tv sets that exist today, but not then. On at least the large screen one could have the characters on a program turn to look at the viewer and ask the viewer, by first name, what he/she thinks of something. We're not there yet, thank heavens, as the vapidity of the show the Fahrenheit character is watching would probably kill us all, but we may be creeping up on it: in recent news CBS has announced that CSI NY Virtual Experience will allow viewers to get involved via Second Life (but not simultaneously with the telecast.)

So maybe we're living in the future now? Somehow I expected a rocket car. After the slide show of advertisments, shown with the lights on, my local chain movie theater (14 screens! 8 or so movies, as the theaterettes are too small for the popular movies!) dims the lights and starts the show with a "Welcome to the ----- Theater" piece which involves a rocket car (a more aerodynamic version of the De Lorean car with the gull wing doors) taking off from a rocket car parking space, flying through the airy streets among tall skyscrapers entirely lit up at night (the cars may be flying because the streets are littered with carbon footprints from all the electricity being used) then at last coming into a garage with the name of the theater. Once it's landed/parked, we get to move on to the adverts for the films. Eventually the movie itself appears.


jsiegel said...

You can invest in a rocket car:

I've seen the prototype, but not in action.

Marianaria Sra. bibliotecaria said...

Hmmmmmmmmmm. Looks scary, or is that just the Please-ticket-me-for-speeding red color?

Thanks for the info! I really am living in the future after all.

Anonymous said...

One of my coworkers is a Moller, of the flying car Mollers. The word is, don't put off buying your hybrid - flying cars are definitely a ways off.

Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite sci-fi authors for his prescience. Another image in Fahrenheit that still haunts me is the family that were considered freaks because they never watched TV. All they did in the evenings was sit on their porch and discuss philosophy. Nobody liked or trusted them because of it.

Marianaria Sra. bibliotecaria said...

Pam, yes, the preference for tv watching over front-porch sitting is moving. It's interesting that some tract houses, at least in some upscale tracts in the SF Bay Area, these days come with front porches. (Or at least they did a few years back before the big housing melt-down.)I suspect that people who live in them would still be watching tv on what are now really the wall screens Bradbury wrote about.

Thanks for the note on the flying cars. Guess I'll have to live in the present, not the future, for a while.