“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not.
Both are equally terrifying.” ― Arthur C. Clarke
I generally don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the future future. I can barely comprehend what life might be like for my kids when they’re as old as I am now. Holodecks, meals in pill form, DNA-as-ID? Maybe they’ll even have the hoverboards and jetpacks we were promised for so long.
The subject has been orbiting our villa this week because Kid A spent most of it making a model of the solar system for school. And during her research (or as we call it, “Asking Dr Google”), we pondered some of the biggest questions of all, like:
- Why are we here?
- Is there life on other planets? and
- When will Mummy and Daddy be replaced by robots?
It was whilst we were researching moons, rings and other celestial bodies that I came across the quote from 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke at the top of this post. Whichever side of the debate you come down on, the man knows how to make a point.
As for ‘Why am I here?’, it’s a big question, possibly the biggest of them all. And it’s been on my mind all week, both in the philosophical are-we-alone-in-the-universe? way, and the what-was-the-question-that-Qatar-was-the-answer-to? version.
If we’re here to leave the planet in better shape for our kids than we found it, then I don’t think we’re succeeding. Maybe a better answer is ‘to give our kids more opportunities than we had’, in which case, I think we’re getting somewhere.
Episode 7: A Missed Opportunity
Talking of opportunities and space, Qatar’s just seen a really big one go whizzing by on hyperdrive, with the news that the new Star Wars film has just started shooting a couple of hundred miles away in Abu Dhabi.
The bleak, barren, alien landscapes; the inhospitable climate…yes, whatever dystopian future J. J. Abrams and co are conjuring up, they’ve certainly come to the right part of the world for it.
As obsessed with films as I am, however, I’m not the biggest sci-fi fan. Some of the best recent sci-fi movies (like Children of Men, Moon, Monsters, Chronicle, Another Earth, Upstream Color, Looper) tend to succeed because their ideas are bigger than their budgets.
But it’s not my genre of choice (‘not my cup of tea’, as we Brits would say). Especially not – heresy though it may be in many people’s eyes –Star Wars. From the moment my young self got seasick watching the trash compactor scene in the first film on board a ferry, we haven’t gotten along.
(So if anyone wants to volunteer to take Amnesiac to see Episode 7 in 18 months’ time, let’s talk.)
If Qatar was looking for a long-term tourism strategy, then bidding for that location work from Lucasfilm should have been top of their list. Because even now, nearly 40 years later, Tunisia is still getting serious tourism mileage out of doubling for Tatooine in the original trilogy.
(As for me, now seems like the perfect time to join my fellow Game of Thrones fans and address the shameful fact that I’ve never been to Northern Ireland.)
Expats = extinct?
But even whilst the future is being built on a sandy set not very far, far away, in many other respects it already seems to be here.
Just check out the ‘mind-controlled exoskeleton’ that will make its debut at next month’s World Cup opening ceremony. Google’s driverless cars (aka Johnny Cab) are waiting in the wings; then it’ll be 3D printed organs transplanted by robot surgeons, before we get to the really life-changing stuff like pizza delivery by drone.
The relentless march of progress will affect us all, expats included. On the upside, teleportation could eliminate the need to ever deal with Qatar Airways’ customer service ever again, but then with a fully automated labour force, maybe the whole notion of expats will be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Days of Future Past
But the futuristic development that appeals to me the most forms the central idea behind Total Recall. No, not that your wife may actually be a trained assassin with your name at the top of her hit list – but the idea of taking a holiday from yourself, rather than drag your thoughts, worries and problems away with you.
It’s on my mind because Family Little City are off on our first break as just the four of us for over a year. There’s no official half term break this term at their school, so we’re just spiriting them away for a week.
That’s one striking difference between here and the UK, where permission for their “unauthorised absence” would have to be applied for and, typically, refused. If we went ahead and took them out anyway, there would be a fine to pay on their return.
But at an international school, with its constant ebb and flow of pupils, I’d be surprised if the school roll stayed the same from one week to the next. Our kids’ teachers seem genuinely surprised (if pleased, thankfully) to see them again most Sunday mornings.
So we’re going to switch off (literally: we’re going screenless for a week… wish us luck) and recharge our batteries in the verdant surroundings of Sri Lanka – which, I also learned this week via Dr Google, was the country British expat Arthur C. Clarke called home for 50 years.
It must be written in the stars…
Bonus fun: Here’s Arthur C. Clarke in 1974, predicting the future (with uncanny accuracy).