Saturday, April 23, 2011


For me, this weekend I realized that I was living in the future.

I've always been bullish on the future. I read a lot of science fiction and science fiction loves the future Time travelers from our time go into the future for some reason and they see all of this cool technology: warp drives, transporters, ray guns, nanoconstructors - you name it. Science fiction writers love science but most of the time they skimp on the social aspects of the future. Do we have racism? Is there free love? Are drugs legal? Is religion abolished?

Sci-fi writers are often less eloquent on these matters. Roddenberry wasn't. He showed us a world in stark contrast to the one that was developing around him. Racism: gone. Freedom: for everyone in every way. No one is sick because we all decided that wasn't going to happen in our world. No one is hungry because not a single person on Earth could bear to see a person starve. There's no war because we're way too grown up for that. There's no money because we're all so rich we don't feel the need to measure it anymore.

But the uniforms he put his characters in were absurd.

Seriously, go-go boots? Miniskirts? Captain Kirk is pretty much wearing pajamas. I mean take a look at military uniforms in our time. They've changed only somewhat in the past 300 years. They're full of creases, corners, polish, buckles and complication. Uniform maintenance is the primary method of making grown men cry in the military. I don't foresee a general relaxing of military culture to the point that you can chill in pajamas on the bridge of the flagship within Star Trek's timeline.

Specific predictions about the future can get tricky. Very few people predicted even really obvious stuff like computers and cell phones. And clothes are worse. Fashion is unrecognizable year to year. The best rule I've figured out is the 20-year rule: whatever you're wearing now will be stylish again in 20 years (assuming it is currently stylish). It works well enough in a general sense, but I'm also quickly losing sense of what is fashionable right now anyhow.

Which is why I was blindsided this weekend. We went to the beach (note to everyone in the frozen north: it is simply gorgeous out here and the water is plenty warm). I saw a bunch of surfers - many of them much much younger than I. And they were ripping up the waves and...

Wearing war paint.

Yeah, streaks of red, blue and yellow all over their faces, arms, chests, you name it. They looked like they belonged in Braveheart. I don't normally attempt to fathom the culture of kids these days but this one left me curious. The only explanation I could think of turned out to be the right one: it's sunblock.

And of course it's sunblock. Let's do the math: you need to wear if you're going to be out in this sun and it pays to be generous with it. When I was bailing hay in summers on the farm I used pure zinc oxide - creamy, greasy and great at picking up dust and dirt. But you had to use it - normal stuff wouldn't get the job done and even with the zinc oxide you had to slather so much on that it was opaque. I looked like one of those nerds you see in movies who never goes outside - pure white nose peeping out from behind a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves in the middle of summer.

Oh if only I could have looked cool AND gotten sun protection....

Oh, and now in THE FUTURE you can. You can cover yourself in sunblock and look like a warrior instead of a nerd. This is the sort of great idea that I never had or even considered, but seems so foreign when you suggest it:

"In the future," the traveler started, "the kids wear war paint!" The pitch of his voice raised on the last half of his sentence as if he had made a particularly incisive statement. "They go to their sports games all painted up with their team colors, fancy designs on their faces to intimidate the other team - who of course have their own paint. Some wear it for every day pursuits too - go to the store and you might see some of them there."

How odd! How interesting! How different! THE FUTURE! Of course, in this case the future isn't foreign or odd. If you start from certain suppositions (you need sun block, sometimes you need it really thick, but it looks dumb) then it's not a far leap to the conclusion (non-dumb-looking sun block should be invented).

Yes, THE FUTURE has arrived for me and it's a good thing: someone had an idea that seemed foreign and senseless to me but is in actuality insanely great (and it's making the world a better place). Kids are wearing more sunblock, protecting their skin and stopping cancer - but they don't look like idiots. Yes, in THE FUTURE the right thing to do is also the cool thing. I want more future please.