Halfway through, I had to put it down and run some errands (not my favorite chore). I drove to the dry cleaner, then to the gas station, and finally to the discount store where I bought a dozen or so items. Then while I was waiting in line to pay for these items, I actually took notice of the people around me with their hands glued to their ears, heads bopping to some unheard music, and the beeping of the scanner as the clerk checked the items for payment. Suddenly I realized that my book was no longer science fiction.
While we may not be planet hopping as easily as the characters in my book, we were at least technologically equal. I looked at the large display of televisions, and there, blaring away, was a mirrored, flat-screen TV that matched almost exactly the book’s description of a “…mirror able to convey news and relay messages…”. As I continued to stare around me, I saw hundreds of different hand-held computers and communication devices. There were pens that shot laser beams (though not deadly ones), books and magazines that could read or listened to on hand-held devices, and reflective discs that could “talk” (or at least communicate by showing data on our TVs or computers).
Looking through the window of the store toward the parking lot, I realized that even our autos had become extremely hi-tech. They may not fly or skim over the surface of the ground using magnetics, but they do practically everything else.
That started me thinking about just how far our society has come technologically since my scifi book had been published in 1964. Back then, we’d never heard of personal computers. The only places that had any type of computers were the military and huge corporations. After all, computers were huge—they covered miles, they took large masses of energy to run, and they didn’t do much more than compile large volumes of statistics; volumes of data that would otherwise take years to compile.
Stores didn’t have computers (or scanners), and every clerk knew how to do math, usually right in their heads. That’s because they were the ones who had to tote up your purchases and calculate how much you owed, and then figure out how much change to give you once you paid. And plastic cards that you could use to pay for your purchases–oh puhhhhleeeze. The only places that offered them were the gas stations, and they weren’t universal—if you got one from Mobil, then it only worked at Mobil.
As for communicating long distances with hand-held devices, well, there was the cowbell that Mrs. Phelps used to call Billy home with, or the whistle that Mrs. Mazowicz used. Of course, the most common method was the yell—it was especially effective when the child’s full name was invoked.
Oh sure, we had telephones; they were big, bulky things that sat on table tops or counters, or we had something called the Princess phone that was a little sleeker and hung on the wall. The handheld part was connected to the base with a long curly cord, and you’d get a crick in your neck if you tried to work and talk on the phone at the same time.
And cars, well they were as basic as you can get. No FM radio (it didn’t exist), no tape players (it was hard to put a reel-to-reel tape deck in a car), and no such thing as a CD or MP3. In fact, there was nothing computerized about cars at all. Anyone with basic mechanical skills could work on one, at least enough to change the oil and other fluids, and filters. As for safety features, sure, they had some. Every car came with brakes, turn signals, and headlights, and it was up to the driver to use them.
Let us not forget that basic of entertainments, TV. There were no VCRs, no DVRs, no type of recording devices for TVs at all. You either stayed home and awake to watch your show, or you missed it. And color, sure, there was color, if your parents could afford a color TV. Our neighborhood was primarily a black and white TV neighborhood, at least until I was into my teens.
“Yep,” I thought as I looked around at the people, their hands glued to their ears, or heads bopping to the music they were plugged into, and I listened to the scanner beeping its rhythmic melody, “we are definitely living in a science fiction world.”