NSFW: The Physical Impossibility of The Future in the Mind of Someone Trapped In Chicago

Paul Carr
Saturday, December 26, 2009; 3:04 PM

A weary hello from O?Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois ¿ the world's coldest and most inhospitable airport, right in the frozen heart of the world's coldest and most inhospitable city. That a community organizer from this city would dream of becoming President is no surprise. Chicago is, after all, the only place in the world capable of making Washington DC look like a step up.

I?m trapped here in standby limbo: my original connecting flight to Nashville cancelled due to snow ? the kind of freak weather condition that no one in Chicago could possibly have predicted for December.

Still, at least I?ve been awake since 4am GMT, and at least my flight left London an hour late because every single passenger had to be patted down by American Airlines staff at the gate, having already passed through the usual madness of security. And at least by ?every single passenger? I mean there unfolded a preposterous pantomime where posh white dudes like me were given the most cursorily of rub-downs in order to keep the line moving while those poor saps who fit the terrorist profile ? which is to say, anyone who looked a bit brown ? were deep-tissue massaged half to death a gaggle of goons in latex gloves. And at least all of that nonsense was utterly pointless because, as any self-respecting terrorist apparently knows, they don?t dare go anywhere near your groin.

It would be very easy for me to write a reactionary column this week about how technology should have made travel delays like this a thing of the past. About how we have heated soccer pitches, and yet we?re told that heated runways don?t stack up economically. Or how there?s no point in having terrorist watch-lists if people on them are still able to get on flights with bombs sewn into their underwear. I mean, Jesus, we?re days away from the end of the first decade of The Future ? 40 years after we put a man on the moon ? and yet there are so many areas where technology still lets us down.

But what good would that do me? I?m already stressed ? and they say when you?re in a stressful situation you should focus on the positives, not dwell on the negatives.

The fact is, for every major way in which the technology of the last decade has failed to deliver ? hoverboards, teleportation ? there are half a dozen smaller advances so mindblowingly significant to our day-to-day lives that we already take them for granted.

For a start, the only thing making this six-hour extended layover in the frozen circle of hell even slightly bearable is the fact that I have my laptop, a power-outlet and decent quality wifi. How the hell did we manage before wifi? It was less than ten years ago that hotspots started to appear ¿ considerably less in the case of airports ¿ and yet already the idea of not being able to access the Internet anytime, anywhere is genuinely impossible to imagine. Like trying to recall how we made social plans before mobile phones, or how we identified prospective sexual partners before Bebo.

Whether it be airport wifi on our laptops or oh-just-connect-you-bastard flakiness on the iPhone, the fact that the Internet has become more ubiquitous than electricity in major cities in the past decade is ¿ without any hyperbole whatsoever- a miracle. Sure, it's destroyed lunch conversation and pub trivia but, in common with anyone who hit their 20s or 30s in the 2000s, I'd happily swap either of those for the ability to book a flight from the back of a cab, or to consult Wikipedia from the toilet.

And, oh, Wikipedia! Sure it?s unreliable as all hell (citation needed) and anything remotely controversial becomes a battleground of edits and bullshit, but there's still something incredible about legions of unpaid volunteers, hunched in parental basements around the globe, collaborating to produce an encyclopedia of all human knowledge. Like most hacks, I consult Wikipedia at least half a dozen times a day, safe in the knowledge that I?ll be able to find a fact ? accurate or not ¿ to support just about any theory my fevered imagination can dream up. A theory that I can write about in a reputable publication and thus, by Wikipedia standards, launder into truth.

And how about Netflix? Or Hulu. Or Pandora. Or Last.fm. Or Spotify. To our kids it will seem as natural as water, but neither you nor I will forget the first time we clicked on the title of a song or a movie, only for it to instantly begin playing with crystal clarity. As I've written before, it's the same feeling you experience when a magician turns water into wine in front of your eyes. With all of our talk of DRM and musicians and directors and ¿ oh yeah ¿ authors losing their livelihood it's easy to forget how utterly bloody marvelous it is that all human creativity is just sitting in the air, all queued up and waiting for us to press play.

In fact, just sitting here, staring out of the window at the snow, I can think of a dozen more technological advances of the past decade that it would be impossible to imagine the world without. Google. The iPod. Facebook. Skype. YouTube. Online banking. ATM check processing. Celebrity sex tapes. Snopes. GPS mapping for all on cellphones. The Kindle. Trip Advisor.

As if to prove my point, as I finished writing that list, my iPhone started to vibrate in my pocket. It was a friend in San Francisco who had been following my snowbound breakdown on Twitter and had decided to call to cheer me up. At about the same time, another friend ? this one in London ? instant messaged me with a very inappropriate joke about bombs on planes which also brightened my evening no end. Ten years ago that simply wouldn?t have happened, nor would I be able to distract myself for another few minutes by sending them both a cameraphone photo of all the snow (above).

Indeed, the technology of the past decade may not have helped me escape from Chicago but it has at least given me a mental escape tunnel to prevent me going completely mad. And for that reason alone, I raise a frozen hand in salute the technology of the?00s and look forward with excitement with what the ?10s will bring.

I just hope they start with heated fucking runways. Seriously ? how hard can it be?

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