Do Librarians Dream of Electric Books?

At a recent get-together I was trying to work out which major Sci-Fi movies and books have made the transition from far-fetched dreams to everyday reality, and which of these now affect how I carry out my day to day work. For instance, I realised that whilst Star Trek’s prediction of automatic doors has not dramatically altered my life*, others have. Using physical gestures to control a computer are now part and parcel of living room gaming, and voice control via Apple’s Siri and Android is making great progress, even if it still has trouble understanding some of my more basic requests. Massive computer networks have been realised through the Internet’s development, and whilst Skynet hasn’t yet become self aware *yet*, we are able to upload documents to “the cloud” and access them all over the world.

And yet, I do not know of many current sci-fi predictions for several generations time. What I read in the tech development sections of the news is usually devoted to the latest smartphone advancements, or an IP infringement on an existing technology. Sci-fi writing seems content to picture a bleak apocalyptic future – I’m yet to come across a work where by any ideas are put forward that make me think “ooh, futuristic… That’ll never happen though, but it would be cool if it did.

The closest I have come to major advancements and reality was as a teenager playing MGS2 encountering the idea of nanobots and their applications. But even here, this technology is now starting to come into practice – what I’m really looking for are predictions way down the line, not just a few years.

Perhaps there are many problems here. Maybe, I’m simply looking in the wrong literature, or watching the wrong, standard Hollywood blockbusters, rather than obscure indy films? Maybe I’ve been tricked into that Victorian mindset of thinking everything worth inventing has been invented? Maybe the information industry has had all of its major revelations for this generation? The Internet combined with hardware advancements has proved to be a massive game changer that many are still struggling to come to terms with. From a librarian’s point of view, these two things alone have amended the ways in which it is possible to interact with, visualise and adapt data. Maybe I should be content with making the most of what current advancements have given us?

After all, there is no shortage of users who need help using their latest gadgets, suppliers who need to be badgered about making their content user friendly, or data that can be visualised in a new, innovative way.

And whilst I love playing around with the latest developments that the information world is able to produce or adapt, part of me still longs to ponder what sci-fi, the news or scientific press can predict for 50-100 years down the line. It is here that I’m just not seeing anything, and that makes my inner geek sad.

If you have any thoughts on what may be the future of data, libraries and technology 50-150 years down the line, or can point me to a good sci-fi book that was written recently, please do let me know. Alternatively, please share your story on how Sci-Fi predicted developments have altered your day to day work.

*with the exception of being able to carry more bags from the supermarket to my house without having to open an extra set of doors

2 responses to this post.

  1. I think part of this might be due to the shift in fashions in sci-fi generally. I think “classic” sci-fi tended to focus on “what if?” scenarios, dreaming up outlandish new ideas for technology, not necessarily related at all to what was available at the time. This in turn inspired some of the actual products that developed based on ideas from science fiction – I wonder how many people involved in developing the first electronic personal organisers were inspired by Star Trek?? However, in modern sci-fi there seems to be more of a trend for rooting the technology in ideas already in progress today – e.g. when Margaret Atwood wrote Oryx and Crake, she deliberately did not include anything that was not at least being discussed in theoretical terms now.

    That might make for more realism in fiction, but as you point out, it does not encourage any genuinely new ideas! A shame, really…


    • It certainly is. I’d like to have something new tech to dream about using when I’m in my late 70s!

      I’ve not read Oryx and Cracke – I’ll add it to the list for my next library visit.


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