What do you imagine the future will look like? In my day, the future was Star Trek (the original series, that is). Back in the 1970s it offered a glimpse of a surely impossible future and I was dazzled. I didn’t like the figure hugging outfits (I don’t think they served nasi lemak in the Enterprise canteen) but I was amazed by the gadgets. There were phasers set to stun, hand-held sensors that made interesting noises (“Captain, I’m detecting an alien life form.”), and an incredible flip-top communication device that functioned like a phone but it didn’t have a cable. It was wireless.
If, I thought to myself, I could just have one of those, then I wouldn’t have to stay at home staring at the telephone while that girl I fancied never called me back. Instead, I could be anywhere while that girl I fancied never called me back. Imagine the possibilities. I could be miserable and morose in all sorts of different locations. I could be hanging out at a friend’s house, if I had any friends. But the Star Trek device that really blew my mind was the sliding doors. Just imagine, you could walk up to a door and it would automatically open. I mean, that’s just crazy. According to Star Trek, the future was going to be amazing. We were all going to boldly go where nobody had been before and I was looking forward to it.
Back in my day there was a spirit of optimism about the future and, remarkably, many of the Star Trek gadgets now actually exist. We have mobile phones and we even have automatic doors (which still blows my mind. I mean, how the hell do they work? Am I controlling it with my thoughts?). We can’t travel at warp speed and we don’t have teleporters that can instantly beam us to our desired destination but so-called “scientists” say both of those are impossible according to the laws of physics. I just think the scientists are being lazy because the Millennium Falcon can travel at hyper speed in Star Wars and that happened a long, long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away. So, you know, whatever (stop me if I’m getting too technical).
The future is here right now and it’s amazing, isn’t it? We travel faster, communicate better and live longer than ever before. We can touch a screen and watch Miss Congeniality 2 but instead of being amazed that we live in an age where such things are possible we get annoyed that the movie isn’t as funny as the trailer made it out to be. Whenever the future arrives, we quickly become bored with it.
The spirit of optimism has been replaced with, well, fear. Hollywood is in America and it reflects American concerns, even if its movies and TV shows are then beamed around the world. Hollywood doesn’t speak for the world but the world does buy and enjoy their product and in Hollywoodland the optimism and excitement of Star Trek have been replaced by the fear of countless alien invasions and zombie apocalypses. Once upon a time when Captain Kirk met a green woman he would start flirting with her but now Donald Trump would want her banned from entering the country, which is odd because he’s orange.
Gene Roddenberry was the creator of Star Trek and he flew a bomber during the Second World War. Whether or not you agree with the US bombing campaign, he did fly 89 missions over Europe when the statistical likelihood of survival was about zero. He and his generation knew that the past was infinitely more awful than the future could possibly be.
At much the same time as countries like Malaysia were living the excitement of independence Star Trek was spinning an optimistic fantasy of the future (with an American of Japanese ancestry playing a character called Sulu, so it was a bit culturally confused). In many ways we now live in that future and in many ways it is truly amazing and yet we face the future with fear of things real but mostly imagined.
We should be concerned about the future because, well, we just should be, but the important thing to remember about alien invasions and the zombie apocalypse is that they will almost certainly never happen. There’s more chance that those lazy scientists will finally invent the teleporter or a better movie for Sandra Bullock. I’m looking forward to the day when I can actually say, “Beam me up, Scotty”.