What does this say about our grand old game

kafka

Mongoose
Forgive the double posting from SFRPG & the COTI but I seek to always get a fresh perspective on things...

Found this interesting article on the CNN website (http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/05/29/jetpack/index.html). At least, for me, it has much to say about Traveller and the decline of wonder in our grand game. For those with browsers impaired...

Why our 'amazing' science fiction future fizzled

At the 1964 New York World's Fair, people stood in line for hours to look at a strange sight.

If only the future looked like "Star Trek," with its nifty gadgets that seem to solve every problem.

They wanted to see the "Futurama," a miniaturized replica of a typical 21st century American city that featured moving sidewalks, computer-guided cars zipping along congestion-free highways and resort hotels beneath the sea.

Forty years later, we're still waiting for those congestion-free highways -- along with the jet pack, the paperless office and all those "Star Trek"-like gadgets that were supposed to make 21st-century life so easy.

Daniel Wilson has been waiting as well. He's looked at the future we imagined for ourselves in pulp comic books, old science magazines and cheesy sci-fi movies from the 1950s, and came up with one question.

Why isn't the future what it used to be?

"I feel entitled to have all this technology that's been promised at a certain time," says Wilson, author of "Where's My Jetpack?" "I look up and say, 'Where's all this stuff?' ''

Some of that futuristic stuff, it turns out, is already here.

Visionaries actually invented objects like flying cars, but they could never work out the real world applications, Wilson says. Other inventions had the same problem. Ordinary people didn't want to have anything to do with them.

These futuristic follies include everything from "Smell-O-Vision," an invention that helped moviegoers smell as well as see movies; Sanyo's "ultrasonic ultra-squeaky clean human washing machine" (it was dubbed the "human washing machine," but wouldn't fit in an ordinary bathroom) and, of course, the jet pack.

"Scientists are OK at predicting what technology is going to happen in the future," Wilson says. "They're really bad at predicting how it's going to affect us."

What happened to my jet pack?

The jet pack is a perfect example of predicting the future, Wilson says. He says the jet pack first appeared in 1928 in an Amazing Stories comic book, which featured the hero Buck Rogers zooming though the sky in a jet pack.

The jet pack was actually developed by 1961, Wilson says. An inventor mounted a rocket onto a backpack and called it a rocket belt. A variation of the rocket belt even appeared in the 1965 James Bond movie, "Thunderball."

Today, the jet pack continues to grab inventors' imaginations.

A daredevil wearing a jet pack flew across a 1,500-foot-wide canyon in Colorado in November. A Swiss pilot, dubbed "Fusion Man," flew across the English Channel last year using a single jet-propelled wing. And a New Zealand inventor recently invented a jet pack, which weighs about 250 pounds, that reportedly can run for 30 minutes.

The jet pack, though, has never really taken off, Wilson says. The problem is its practical application. While a rocket belt could propel a screaming human to 60 mph in seconds, its fuel lasted for only about half a minute, "which led to more screaming," Wilson says.

The military couldn't find a useful application for it either. A soldier with a jet pack might look cool, but he's an easy target. Nor could a jet pack be of use to ordinary people who wanted to avoid rush-hour traffic, Wilson says. Jet-packing hordes could transform the skies into an aerial demolition derby, with air rage and drunk drivers turned into wobbly human torpedoes.

Yet other bold visions of the future have come true. Remember Rosey the Robot? That was the name of the robotic maid that waited on the Jetsons, the popular cartoon family from the future

Rosey has become "Wakamaru." That's the name of a 3-foot-tall robot with a goofy grin that the Mitsubishi conglomerate in Japan invented to assist elderly people at home by doing everything from reminding them to take their medicine to looking out for burglars. Wakamaru can recognize faces and up to 10,000 words, Wilson says.

"Beam me Up Scotty," is a tagline from another television show, "Star Trek". But teleportation has been invented, Wilson says. He says a group of international scientists successfully transported a photon -- a bundle of electromagnetic energy -- from one side of a room to another in 1993. Physicists routinely conduct teleportation experiments today, Wilson says.

"Teleporting anything, even elementary particles, is mind-blowing," Wilson says. "Why is it that most people don't know it exists? It hasn't been put into practice yet. In real life, it's always about, 'What can you do for me?' "

A darker view of technology's future

People's fascination with technology's imprint on the future didn't start, however, in the mid-20th century with shows like "The Jetsons" or "Star Trek."

Joseph Corn, co-author of "Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future," found an inflated optimism about technology's impact on the future as far back as the 19th century, when writers like Jules Verne ("Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea") were creating wondrous versions of the future.

Even then, people had a misplaced faith in the power of inventions to make life easier, Corn says.

For example, the typical 19th-century American city was crowded and smelly. The problem was horses. They created traffic jams, filled the streets with their droppings and, when they died, their carcasses.

But around the turn of the 20th century, Americans were predicting that another miraculous invention would deliver them from the burden of the horse and hurried urban life -- the automobile, Corn says.

"There were a lot of predictions associated with early automobiles," Corn says. "They would help eliminate congestion in the city and the messy, unsanitary streets of the city."

Corn says Americans' faith in the power of technology to reshape the future is due in part to their history. Americans have never accepted a radical political transformation that would change their future. They prefer technology, not radical politics, to propel social change.

"Technology has been seen by many Americans as a way to get a better tomorrow without having to deal with revolutionary change," Corn says.

Today, however, a more sober view of technology has sneaked into the nation's popular culture. In dystopian sci-fi films like "Blade Runner," and "Terminator," technology creates more problems than it solves.

"Battlestar Galactica,'' the recent television series, is a prime example. It depicts a world where human beings have created amazing technology that has brought them to the precipice of extinction. There's no Buck Rogers zooming blissfully through the sky.

The show follows the journey of a group of humans who created a race of robots called Cylons. The Cylons rebel, virtually wipe out humanity with nuclear weapons, and pursue the survivors through space.

Mark Verheiden, a Battlestar writer, says the show's writers pay attention to current events when plotting their story lines. The contemporary world is filled with the unintended consequences of technology, he says.

"There are so many things you can't anticipate when you create a new technology," he says. "Who would have predicted that the Internet would be taking down shopping malls and wiping out newspapers?''

In Battlestar's finale, human beings abandon their faith in technology's ability to improve the future. They destroy their fancy machines and start again as simple hunter-gatherers.

"At some point, you can't expect a miracle to come in the form of technology to save us," Verheiden says. "At some point, the miracle has to come from a change in attitude and a new outlook."

That doesn't mean, however, that Verheiden isn't a fan of imagining future technology. He says he grew up watching "Star Trek" and immersing himself in Futurama-like exhibits.

The elevated cities and the "Star Trek" voyages of yesteryear may now seem corny, but at least they show humanity has a future, he says.

" 'Star Trek' was saying [that] a thousand years from now, people [will] figure out how to get along," Verheiden says. "In some ways, sci-fi says that the future is still optimistic, because no matter how bleak things are, it suggests that we're still here."
 
Ye gods, could they at least put spoiler tags in the article without giving away the whole damn ending of BSG?! (I've seen the finale, but some may not have).

Either way, I don't really see that it says anything about Traveller... except that its projections are very unrealistic. In the OTU technology doesn't affect or change humanity at all, and the consequences of using it are rarely explored. Realistically that's nonsense - of course technology will change us - it is changing us, which I guess is what the article is saying.
 
...The jet pack, though, has never really taken off, Wilson says.

:D .. :lol: .. :roll:

[P.S. - thanks EDG for the warning! I haven't seen the new BSG yet - fortunately the article was too droll and I skipped to your post (generally guaranteed not to be droll :wink:) before getting halfway through.]
 
Traveller is not about the trading, the Broker skill, the cargoes, the dice rolls on the Trade tables and the search for TL 18 stuff that they can use to blow stuff up.

Traveller is about people. The characters. The Allies. The Contacts. The Rivals and Enemies. The Patrons and their dreams (and their occasional nightmares, too).

In addition, Traveller is also a way by which characters can explore how people interact with technology, and the interdependency of the meat and the machine.

The Referee can use Traveller as a medium to tell the kinds of deep stories that only SF writers can dream of: where we come from. Where we are going. What is the Universe, how did it come about and how will it end? And so on. These are questions that can't be answered through embracing technology like a lover or a God: that way lies madness and the Borg.

But at the same time, the adventures show how we can't just throw away our technologies and become subsistence farmers scratching a living in the soil, either.

Traveller adventures must strike a balance between the people and the technologies. If a piece of tech is a wonder, people will covet it; if a person is a powerhouse or a genius, some technology comes along to threaten that person's position in society.

Just painting "technology is BAAAD, mm'kay?" is as invalid an opinion as "Only the One True God can grant you redemption." In the end, tech and people coexist - because people will always come up with, and become dependent on, technology, and technology has to depend on people to maintain it. And that's what Traveller explores, in the end.
 
alex_greene said:
Traveller is not about the trading, the Broker skill, the cargoes, the dice rolls on the Trade tables and the search for TL 18 stuff that they can use to blow stuff up.

I'm going to have to disagree a little here. Since this can vary depending on the players/referee. Traveller can be about whatever you want it to be. If this happens to be trading, brokering cargoes and the like so be it.
 
alex_greene said:
In the end, tech and people coexist - because people will always come up with, and become dependent on, technology, and technology has to depend on people to maintain it. And that's what Traveller explores, in the end.

I guess we must somehow be seeing totally different things then. I don't see any relation between technology and people in Traveller (or the OTU anyway) at all. Completely the opposite in fact - tech and people are so far apart in the OTU that it seems nonsensical to me. The fact that a TL 15 or even a TL 10 or 11 society is generally deemed to be exactly the same as ours today but with grav cars and floating buildings is a completely crazy proposition to me. A TL 15 society done more realistically and with actual consideration for technology/people interaction should be almost completely unrecognisable to us.
 
alex_greene said:
In the end, tech and people coexist - because people will always come up with, and become dependent on, technology, and technology has to depend on people to maintain it. And that's what Traveller explores, in the end.

Which Traveller supplements or adventures do you think exemplify this exploration?

EDG said:
I guess we must somehow be seeing totally different things then. I don't see any relation between technology and people in Traveller (or the OTU anyway) at all. Completely the opposite in fact - tech and people are so far apart in the OTU that it seems nonsensical to me.

I can see that. The closest Traveller comes to any social exploration is in the world government type and law levels tables, and in the constitution of the various interstellar governments in the OTU. In both cases externaly derived societal types appear to have been imposed arbitrarily on the setting. I'm not complaining about that, but clearly the OTU developers were primarily attempting to recreate elements from other SF settings they liked within the OTU and I don't think the internal logic of the setting was a priority for them. That's honestly not a criticism, that approach served them and their audience, including me, very well.


The fact that a TL 15 or even a TL 10 or 11 society is generally deemed to be exactly the same as ours today but with grav cars and floating buildings is a completely crazy proposition to me. A TL 15 society done more realistically and with actual consideration for technology/people interaction should be almost completely unrecognisable to us.

Well, that's a different question. I think there are a lot more influences on the structure of a society than just it's technology, some of them at least as influencial such as external cultural influences, external or environmental threats, economic necessity, their own history, etc. In fact the structure of the society itself can have a huge influence on what kinds of technology they develop and how they use it.

Having said that, yes technologies can have far reaching unexpected consequences that can shape a society, but SF authors have just as chequered a history at working out what those will be as anyone else.

Simon Hibbs
 
A sploirer tag could have been usefull. That being said, I am pleased to know how BattlestarGallactica ends now, as that is typically the kind of pseudo philosophy I haaaaaate. I can avoid it entirely now.

Some SF does look into society, as a matter of fact I tend to think all good SF tries to understand possible future societies. Heinlen had his views, Hamilton has writen some interesting stuff with Edenism and even Adamism, and even in RPGs we have interesting stuff: just look at Transhuman space.

The thing is Traveller definitly fails on that, buit that is essentially I feel because it is retro SF. Back in the early 80s Traveller social models were actually relatively decent I think.

All that being said, the tricky bit about all of this is that things change both more and less than we can ever expect, in society and in everyday technology. Plus most anticipations are tainted by either otimism or pessimism.
Just seriously think about the profound subtle changes that have happened in just a little over 10 years of internet.
 
EDG said:
I guess we must somehow be seeing totally different things then. I don't see any relation between technology and people in Traveller (or the OTU anyway) at all. Completely the opposite in fact - tech and people are so far apart in the OTU that it seems nonsensical to me. The fact that a TL 15 or even a TL 10 or 11 society is generally deemed to be exactly the same as ours today but with grav cars and floating buildings is a completely crazy proposition to me. A TL 15 society done more realistically and with actual consideration for technology/people interaction should be almost completely unrecognisable to us.

Exactly so. It's not realistic. I believe we call it Space Opera. Traveller is still about people. People who still dream, hold grudged, fight each other, fight for each other. Futuristic technology isn't the subject of Traveller, but it is an important element. Traveller has never dealt with the context of technology very effectively. Look at the difference between a World War I biplane and an F22 'Raptor', technologies evolved in the span of a single lifetime. The difference between a TL10 and TL15 Starship would be hard to fathom...

The minute you try and make it real, it stops being Traveller, and it becomes much harder to play. The reason Space Opera works so well is because you can understand it without constant explanations of why this, what this means, how this works...
 
zanwot said:
A sploirer tag could have been usefull. That being said, I am pleased to know how BattlestarGallactica ends now, as that is typically the kind of pseudo philosophy I haaaaaate. I can avoid it entirely now.

Or, kafka could, y'know, edit the spoilery bits out of the post.
 
Kafka, I do believe we have some of the stuff from ST:TOS and such.

I mean, can you walk down any street without seeing someone talking on the phone using one of those damm bluetooth ear pieces? Now look at any shot of Lt. Uhura sticking that big silver comm piece in her ear.

Add cell phones. Once they started becoming a mass-market item what was the most frequently used design form? The Flip Phone... hello Capt. Kirk whipping out his communicator flipping the lid over in the same motion and saying that classic "Beam me up Scotty" (although I believe the line was never said that way, but it sounds cool).

We also have detailed CAT and MRI scanners that can really give detailed looks into someone's body. Of course they won't get down to the level of showing "Osmotic Micro-pumps" (ST Movie #1) but close for modern diagnostic purposes.

I think Science Fiction has always been optimistic about what could be accomplished since it doesn't have to deal with the realities of research & development along with the economies of scale (getting it built cheaply enough).

In some ways our tech today is ahead of Star Trek's original series. We have powerful computers that sit on our desks and 'laps' (just look at my Mac, I'd include Vista but it's a dog still... grin), carrying information around on really small digital 'jump' drives (also known as 'thumb' drives) and SD cards etc. Our iPhones and such have so much computing power in them they make the computers of 15 years ago look anemic. So we come out ahead there.

Oh, and that "spoiler"... how many months has it been since BSG went off the air? and what was it, end of season 2 when it jumped the shark? Don't sweat having mentioned the ending, some people are behind the times and just like to complain.
 
Thanks Gamerdude...I was just about to edit it when I saw your breath of enlightened air. So, yes, there were spoilers in the original article (can't be sorry about it, as I did not write it). But, indeed part of the grit of Traveller has been about the human condition and whizzbang of a Holywood special effects department to dictate the terms of adventure.

It also speaks to that as much we do need chrome, it has to be balanced, with a good and compelling narrative. Much of the futures that have been on offer look spiffer than our Grand Game but one thing that does sustain them is a narrative or a mythology.
 
kafka said:
Thanks Gamerdude...I was just about to edit it when I saw your breath of enlightened air.

It isn't "enlightened" at all, it's extremely selfish, and deciding not to at least warn people is even more so (though once again I note that GamerDude still can't resist throwing in some pointless snark whenever I say anything. I'm quite sure he wouldn't have said that if someone else had raised the issue). :roll:

Either way, I didn't mention it for my own sake or because "I like to complain", I've already seen the show to its conclusion (which is lucky for you. I've been really into BSG and have managed to avoid spoilers for the entire run of it, so having the ending blown would most likely have resulted in extreme violence). But others may not have seen it - even if it finished a few months ago here, not everyone is on the north american TV schedule. And in fact someone else did say that they were grateful for my after-the-fact spoiler warning about it.

The very least you could do is edit the title of the thread to say "[BSG spoilers]" or put a note at the top of the article warning people that it contains spoilers for the ending of BSG. A little thought before you posted would have avoided this distraction.
 
In my view Traveller indeed is about people and their relations and inter-
actions, technology is just an instrument people use to interact with other
people and with their general environment.

While different technology levels and technologies change the way people
express themselves, they do not change the basics of what people want
to express, and why.

Reading 5,000 years old texts from Sumerian authors shows that it is pos-
sible to understand at least in a general way what these authors were thin-
king, fearing or hoping, and why they did.

The 5,000 years of technological progress that separate them from us ha-
ve not changed us in a way that would make us a kind of different speci-
es, and they have not changed the foundations of human societies in a
way that would erase the many common features our societies have with
those of the Sumerians.

While it is currently impossible to go further back than those 5,000 years,
I have few doubts that we would easily recognize even much older cultu-
res as obviously related to our own culture, despite the even greater dif-
ferences in technology.

So, yes, technology is very important, especially in science fiction, and it
does influence individuals and societies. But it is the variable factor, the
constant factor is that people remain people, and this is the factor I pre-
fer at the center of my Traveller games.
 
kafka said:
Thanks Gamerdude...I was just about to edit it when I saw your breath of enlightened air. So, yes, there were spoilers in the original article (can't be sorry about it, as I did not write it). But, indeed part of the grit of Traveller has been about the human condition and whizzbang of a Holywood special effects department to dictate the terms of adventure.
You are most welcome. If I can give a good piece of advice that not only applies to real life but also to posting on any forum... people are going to bitch about something, and if there ain't anything valid to bitch about they will find something. I don't care if it's the price of petrol, how a favored sports team is doing, or that someone posted some tidbit about a show months after the entire thing ended. Do like I do and suck it up and take it.

It also speaks to that as much we do need chrome, it has to be balanced, with a good and compelling narrative. Much of the futures that have been on offer look spiffer than our Grand Game but one thing that does sustain them is a narrative or a mythology.
One thing I like about all our 'future forward' thinking is how does the advance in technology change the general populaces ability to cope with life when that same technology is gone. How many of us are willing to get off the couch and use the channel up/down buttons on the tele when we can't find the remote? How many of us are willing to walk 5 blocks to a store instead of taking the car (I've actually watched someone I knew in their early 20's take the car to a store that was barely two blocks from our dorm... just because he didn't like walking... and the distance the car had to travel was like 3 times what it would be to walk).

Think of the future of traveller where there is cheap power, interstellar travel, the speed of getting from one part of a planet to say another continent is just a couple of hrs. What would happen if the technology base of that society were to collapse? Lots of problems especially for those who just can't conceive of it being any other way.

A more modern example... cable TV with it's hundreds of channels and on demand movies/tv shows etc. Take that away and what do you get? The basic three to five stations like when I was growing up (which was five broadcast channels)... Now THAT is a loss (right).
 
GamerDude said:
You are most welcome. If I can give a good piece of advice that not only applies to real life but also to posting on any forum... people are going to bitch about something, and if there ain't anything valid to bitch about they will find something. I don't care if it's the price of petrol, how a favored sports team is doing, or that someone posted some tidbit about a show months after the entire thing ended. Do like I do and suck it up and take it.

And you're the ultimate arbiter of "validity" now, are you? :roll:

Has it ever occurred to you that if someone complains about something, it's because it might actually be important to them? Whether you care about it or not is irrelevant - you're not the one raising the issue. And what's it to you if someone else does complain about it anyway?

I know I hate shows and movies being spoiled by thoughtless people who don't engage their brains before talking about them. I know many others do too. If you don't care then it's not a problem for you, but for people who do get into these things it can really ruin it. It's not too much to ask for a bit of consideration for those people is it? Or do people need your permission to get annoyed at something now?
 
Spoiler's are a Hollywood conspiracy. See, Hollywood has been conditioning us to talk about things so that we will spoil it for others, therefore encouraging everyone to see something as soon as it comes out to avoid hearing/seeing the spoilers. This is part of their grand conspiracy to part us from our money. The entire internet was invented so that spoilers could be more easily spread. :p

While I appreciate people being considerate, and not posting spoilers, etc, it's just not worth it to get bent out of shape when they happen. Particularly when a show or movie has been out for awhile.

Oh, and just so I can be a deliberate jerk - in the movie Titantic, the ship sinks...
 
kristof65 said:
Oh, and just so I can be a deliberate jerk - in the movie Titantic, the ship sinks...
I suspected this, but I always left the movie theatre or turned off the TV
before the end, because I did not want to know it, and now ... :cry:

If my dear friend Sauron should get into trouble at the end of the Lord
of the Rings, please do not tell me. :evil:
 
rust said:
kristof65 said:
Oh, and just so I can be a deliberate jerk - in the movie Titantic, the ship sinks...
I suspected this, but I always left the movie theatre or turned off the TV
before the end, because I did not want to know it, and now ... :cry:

If my dear friend Sauron should get into trouble at the end of the Lord
of the Rings, please do not tell me. :evil:

I'm not sure about him, but Gandalf the Grey is no more by the second movie.

Dave Chase
 
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