Twenty-seven years ago I was thirty-five years old, with a young family of three children. It was 1993 and I had just been made redundant for the second time. Each morning I went through the adverts for jobs and applied for the suitable ones. I was (and still am) an experienced VMS Operating System admin, and in those days there was work to be found.
Twenty-seven years ago jobs were still advertised in print magazines, even local newspapers. I had a chunky old Windows 3.1 386 computer, and a dot-matrix printer, printing on micro-perforated fan-fold paper. Did I have an internet connection at home? I honestly cannot remember. I don’t think so, but a new search engine called AltaVista was a revelation at my next job
I was a regular user of the local library (remember when those wonderful places were in almost every town?). On one visit I saw an advert for a writing competition run by the Adult Education college in nearby Richmond. Effectively, the brief was to write a short story on any subject. First prize was, I think, £30.00, the word limit around 2,000.
I applied for job in the mornings and my afternoons were pretty empty. I’d always wanted to write, I was out of work. This, I thought, was a good opportunity. So I sat down and wrote 2020 Vision, a story about life in the year 2020. You can read it here.
The new year reminded me about this story and after many, many years, I hesitantly read it again. To my relief it wasn’t that bad. A first effort, an apprentice piece. What was more interesting was to look at what I had got right, or wrong in my predictions.
The short answer is quite a lot!
I might have been right about the increasingly difficulty of getting state aid by people who need it, but failed to imagine the sheer hostility of the present system. My future dystopia feels cosy compared to reality.
While I was wrong about the spread of specific drug-resistant infections, I had the general trend right. That wasn’t hard because even back in the 90s there was serious concern about the spread of drug resistance. And I was semi-right about the difficulty funding research into ‘Third-World’ diseases in a profits-based pharma culture. Wrong also about compulsory treatment. This is probably a good thing.
I was completely wrong about cybernetic body enhancements. They never happened. I and many of my geeky, techy, ShadowRun-playing friends were in love with the idea, as well as William Gibson’s Neuromancer vision of the future. Right now I’m unconvinced it will ever happen and problems of tech obsolescence aren’t going to go away.
While I feel I came quite close predicting high personal debt from university fees, that was simply a case of turning what was already there up to 11. It seemed pretty obvious.
Not Even Close!
I didn’t even mention HIV. I don’t know why, it was a big deal and high on government agendas and in the news. It’s still with us and while there’s disagreement, some believe its elimination within a decade is possible. Let’s hope so.
No doubt you can think of plenty more mistakes and omissions, but the big, bigger, biggest thing I totally missed was climate change. It was there but it had no real priority in either mine or the general consciousness as being anything more than ‘something that needs to be dealt at some point’. This, I think, is a real failure of imagination on my part as a writer of science fiction. But this was my first story, so give me a break.
I was nearly right about gene therapy fixing inherited diseases. I trained as a biologist, life and the processes of life still fascinate me. The other sciences are interesting but biology and especially genetic research is where it’s at. (As a total aside, how’s this for brilliant?)Back in the 90s this was all so far under the radar it was underground and even today the wider population seems unaware of just what a revolution is coming. A little slower that I’d hoped but it is just about here and few people have noticed.
I was right about the garage science bit too. Basic CRISPR gene editing can be done by anyone, by smart children, by you and me. It doesn’t need much equipment and costs are plummeting. Regulating this will be a challenge, but it’s one of the new sciences that holds enormous promise and hope, and it’s coming to your neighbourhood soon. To your street, your house. You. Puma claws for everyone, I tell you. Everyone.
P.S. 2020 Vision won that competition. I signed up for a term of classes at the college and the class went on to form my first writing group. Looking back, I think much credit goes to the judges for even considering an SF story in a general competition. 18 months later I sold my first story to Trevor Denyer’s Broadsword magazine.