Citizen X

It is the year 2010. 30 years have passed since the first computers appeared in homes. 60 years since machines capable of video conferencing were speculated in media, over 100 since John Carter, Warlord of Mars first learned of the great machine the house of Tardos Mors used to observe life on all worlds in the solar system.

In my hands I hold a device capable of all of these feats. It retails for a little more than a day’s skilled wages, and I have one nearly equal to it riding in a holster on my belt. Technology has caught up to our speculative future in many aspects, exceeding it in others.

But we are lagging far behind the promises of better days handed down from our fathers. I’m of the belief that human life can be prolonged. Not today, but we are close to the when I desire. I wish with all my heart that technology could stop a body from attacking itself, remove foreign elements safely and completely from delicate tissues, reverse damage to non regenerative organs.

Moreso than the flying car, this is technology’s great betrayal. We do not heal the ills plaguing us, we create things to make us feel better while we suffer. We seek to salve, rather than to save. Among those things we create are boundaries, roadblocks between us and the fabled better days meant to ease and protect our transition from then to then.

I want a flying car. At the same time, I do not want a car that travels on the ground. I wish neither to own or operate such a vehicle, and am at times even apprehensive about riding in one. When I sacrifice the comfort of my cave for the advantages present outside, I give up control of that future. As a passenger, I am subject to the desires of a driver, who is in turn constrained by the desires and presence of other drivers.

If we arrive at our destination alive, we call it success. We have been trained that covering distances while seated, some greater than any we can walk in a day in less time than is necessary to cook dinner, is “regular.” We further complain about waiting when that hypothetical meal is prepared by others, judging a wait of minutes to be unacceptable when many miles could be covered in the same time.

A flying car will not solve this problem, nor will it make our hypothetical diners more appreciative of the great advantages in their lives. If anything, they will want faster conveyance at a lower cost. It is likely that these people we do not know would pay quite a bit for an inefficient vehicle that moves at speeds prohibited by the society they disdain, but would not consider owning one designed specifically for their lifestyle.

Here in the future, we live in the past. A disease first diagnosed over 2000 years ago kills millions each year, almost as many as die while being drivers or passengers. Each year, more and more cars identical to ones purchased the year before come to market with shiny coats of paint and intermittent wipers and places for our small computers to play loud music over expensive speakers.

None of them fly. Most contribute to sickness and pain they will do nothing to cure, briefly bringing convenience to and enhancing lives which will end too soon to appreciate a sunset or the beating of a hummingbird’s heart.

I want to live in better days. I will trade my flying car and my small computers and war and pain and anger for days in the sun, in which I will run with joints that do not scream agony at me and lungs not laboring for full breaths. I want to have many such days, and I want those I love to share them with me. Feet on the ground, hands unfettered by keys or pocketbooks or personal devices which are decidedly impersonal, separating us from other people in cones of private media experience.

The future was supposed to be science fiction. Instead, it is a fantasy told to children as they drift off into machine-assisted sleep under artificial lights in manufactured homes.

We let this happen. We chose the flying car, the split atom and wallets full of painted cloth needed to pay for them. We killed the future, all the while promising ourselves a better one.

I have arrived at my destination. Success. I am alive, whole, and unafflicted. How long this will last is uncertain, but for now I can keep dreaming my dreams.

Just as the future has betrayed us, it has also given us the freedom to speculate. Mankind has sent ambassadors to another planet, planting a flag and returning with a pocket full of rocks and dust as evidence of a decade of better tomorrows. 40 years after our first tentative steps into a larger universe, we have sent bombs back to that cold world, using engines of destruction to drive discovery.

There is water in the sky. Locked in rocks and ice and untold stories of the now. Above our heads floats a resource necessary for our return to the future. Nations have commited themselves to again travel among dreams, and I wish to join them.

In another 30 years, will our children remember a time without streaming video, as we recall life without automated banking or satellite phones? Our parents and grandparents watched the world change with each column of fire rising from our native soil. Governments formed and fell, monsters walked among us as men, and each night their children were lulled to sleep with promises of a better future.

As its current inhabitants, we owe the residents of that future Earth a happy ending. It’s time to earn the rewards we desire, to apply the accumulated knowledge of a century of dreams and reap the seeds of imagination.

Somewhere, somewhen, John Carter looks down on the world of his birth and smiles, eager to share the fantastic with us. Let us hope that his faith, and ours, is rewarded soon.

Scott James Magner
Citizen of Earth

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