Friday, July 8, 2011

A Trip into the Future

My last post got me thinking a little about what stories will be like in the future.  The future you and I probably won't be around to see.  Of course, we might still be around, as scientist Aubrey de Grey predicts.  Technology is moving at a blinding speed nowadays, and is only speeding up as time goes on.

I've already written about Hollywood's massive recycling efforts and the maddeningly huge number of remakes, series reboots and sequels being churned out there in the name of money... er, art.  It's really no surprise.  After all, there are only a handful of basic plots out there.  They're bound to have to recycle after a while.

But what's going to happen fifty years from now?  How about a hundred and fifty?  My latest work in progress is set in large part in the year 2186, which is obviously not a time we'll see any time soon.  Most of the thought that went into it focused on the technology of the time, such as communication, transportation, and other aspects of life that will most certainly continue to meld with the virtual world.  A major part of that technology drives entertainment, and already entertainment makes up a huge part of the virtual world.

But what will that entertainment look like in that future?  What will it evolve into?  We already see signs of how rapidly technology changes things even when it's not the intention of the story.  Just watch a few movies from the 1980's.  Watch long enough to see someone whip out a cellular telephone the size of a cinder block.  Or watch long enough to see someone carrying around a gargantuan boom box.  Even movies made a few short years ago are already outdated by the technology they show.

Even watching the movies themselves has changed a great deal.  The first movies were made without any sound at all.  Then they figured out how to sync them with a soundtrack, and then the actual words the actors were saying.  Then they added color.  Then high definition.  Now it's 3D, and even 3D is changing.  There's what, three or four different versions of it out there?  They're even making 3D graphics you don't have to wear those stupid glasses to see correctly.

Books have undergone a similar, if slightly less dramatic change.  We used to have books printed from carefully hand-constructed typesets.  Now you can zap a book into your Kindle or Nook in the blink of an eye and read it digitally.

But where is that technology taking storytelling in the future?  What will the interfaces be in 2186?  My guess is they'll follow suite with what has been happening all along.  Everything is getting smaller, more portable, more convenient, faster, more personalized.  By then, it could all be wired directly into your optic nerves and be written to be fully interactive.  For all I know, you and I could walk into a theater, sit down together and watch a completely different version of the movie.  Of course, I don't think movie theaters will even be in existence anymore.  We'll have moved past them.  They'll be obsolete, an odd relic of the past.  There will be no reason to go to a certain public place, surrounded by inconsiderate strangers and stepping on sticky, popcorn-littered floors just to watch a movie.  The story will come to us, when we wish, and as we wish.  We're already more than halfway there anyway, if you think about it.

I don't think children of the future will ever debate whether the twelfth version of Casablanca was better than the eleventh.   I don't think they'll argue if the latest bestseller was a great book or a cruddy one.  I think they'll relate how the story was told to them, and how it differed from how it was told to their friends.  What ending works for you probably doesn't work for me.  Everyone's tastes are different, and the stories in the future will have to address that.  Give technology that much time to develop, and there will still be something new under the sun; it will have a different twist to it because it's personalized by the viewers themselves.

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