E-Readers and Salt Cellars

So there I was in the kitchen brewing the morning’s pot of coffee, and to while away the time while waiting for the water to boil, I propped my Nook up on the salt cellar . . . and had a thought about the depiction of technological advances in science fiction.

Part of the fun of writing science fiction is the opportunity to create a shiny bright all-new high-tech future (or a dark and grubby one, if that’s where your interest lies.)  A lot of the time, though, when we create our futures, we forget that the past doesn’t go away.  Bits and pieces of it stick around and stay in use.  If you look in the right places, you can still buy buggy whips, because there are still people who use them.  In my own small (very small — population about 2500) town, there are homes that get their energy from solar panels, and homes where the owners cut their own firewood from the trees in their wood lot and burn it in their cast-iron stoves.  The same world that has an international space station in orbit also still has sailing ships and horse-drawn plows.

Change doesn’t happen at the same rate all over the place.  And people don’t stop using old things when new things are invented:  some people can’t afford the new things, other people don’t like the new things, and some people make a hobby out of liking and using the old things even when they could easily afford the new.  Digital watches were rare and expensive, once upon a time; when they became cheap and ubiquitous, the people who cared about such things went back to wearing finely-crafted hands-on-a-dial watches instead.

Any future we think up has to be as technologically mixed-up and diverse as the present we’ve already got, or our imaginations have failed us.

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