is the Gernsbeck future, past?

In 1995, Public Broadcasting in the United States broadcast a series of programs about the future, called, Futuretech and hosted by Jeff Goldblum, an actor who I remember most clearly from Cronenburg’s The Fly. Each week, Goldblum would preside over a cavalcade of futurists presenting their competing visions of the imminent technological utopia. At the end of each show, he would cock his head and tell us that all this stuff was important, because "the future is where we’ll be living the rest of our lives."

What I would suggest is that we’re already living within the expectations of someone’s manufactured future, and have been doing so for quite some time. Science fiction writer William Gibson has something he calls the "Gernsbeck Continuum" after the publisher of Amazing Science and other 1930s pulp science fiction magazines. It is the supposed utopian future of flying cars, easy space travel, robot servants and sentient computers, a cultural construct which runs out over three-quarters of the 20th century, from The Shape of Things to Come to The Jetsons. It is a positivist, corporatist vision of future happiness through technology, and there is no better example of it than the General Electric Carousel of Progress at Disneyland, circa 1964, complete with "Our GE nuclear power plant..."

Even though the Gernsbeck Continuum might seem at least dated and quaint, we might want to consider that we are still living in some version of it. Cyberspace as it actually exists might actually be considered rather dull: as William Gibson said, it’s where our money is before we take it out of the automatic teller machine. And, yes, chilling: it is where our genes seem to be, mapped by the Human Genome Project, creating a weird virtual slavery as our basic algorithms end up floating, ready to be manipulated, in the guts of some Cray supercomputer.

Don't get me wrong. I hope our shared technological future is wonderful - I’ve always wanted a flying car - but more likely it’s just going to be as complex and messy as it ever has been. Cyberspace is where we’ll be living the rest of our lives, probably not in full body suit VR hookups having virtual sex - that’s just another extension of the Gernsbeck Continuum.