August 30, 2009
Your Future Portaphone
He hasn’t posted a ton lately, and really, going after mobile phones is low-hanging fruit, but I was still delighted with today’s look at portable phones (from a 1976 book titled Future Facts). It includes this quote:
For a while at least, the portaphone will remain a business tool or luxury item. In time, however, portaphones will get smaller and cheaper, just as transistor radios have.
First: “portaphones!” When did we stop applying multisyllabic prefixes to words? Probably around the same time “port-a” became uniquely associated with outdoor toilets.
Second: today, we would almost certainly have to reverse that analogy: “Over time, transistor radios became smaller and cheaper, just as celullar phones have today.” I consider this a sign of the analogy’s intrinsic merit.
Last: it’s easy to look at old predictions of the future with awe at what they get right and glee at what they get wrong. But this should be taken seriously as symptoms. They show how the past dreamed itself, and indeed, how it dreamed the present, in all of its possibilities and constraints, into being.