Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Future in a Can of Coffee

I made a run to K-Mart of all places yestertoday, to pick some necessities they had on sale. Unfortunately, I went before I had breakfast and my stomach guided me though the snack aisles. Ding Dongs. Beef Jerky. BBQ Potato Chips. Nearly everything looked like ambrosia to me at that hour. But one thing in particular caught my eye. A can of self-heating coffee.

It's easy to work. You turn the can over, push a button on the bottom to start some chemical heating reaction, turn it back over and wait. Five minutes later a spot on the side of the can changes color from red to white, letting you know the coffee's at premium drinking temperature.

These have been around for some time. NASA developed them quite some time ago so space travelers can have something hot to eat. Japan's had them for a few years, but mostly in the form of cup-o-noodles. But I had never seen one myself. I can remember reading SF stories as a kid I always thought that was pretty cool. And while a cup of coffee is not a turkey dinner or even a cup of noodles, it's a nice start.

The whole thing got me thinking about technology and how damn hard it is to predict. SF, in fact, has a pretty bad overall record with it. Just look at the big ticket items. If you believed the SF written in the 50's and 60's everyone would have their own spaceship, flying car, and jet pack by now. Instead we have videogames, myspace, and real dolls.

And then there's computers.

"A Logic Named Joe", a lone short story written in 1946 by Murray Leinster, is not only the first but one of the few pieces of SF to predict the personal computer and the concept of large computer networks. Tech changes our lives in random, odd ways we can't predict. 50 years ago, how many people would have guessed so many of our jobs would depend on computers? Not many.

What's the point? When it comes down to it, it's the little pieces of tech that come around to make our lives easier that really stand to change the way we live. The microwave. The light emitting diode. The self-heating can of coffee. These are the small things that reshape our lives and moves us forward into some other way of living. It's just not quite so fancy or fun to write about as a time machine, but they can make great background color for a writer with a creative mind.

And that can of coffee? It wasn't bad, but I think I'll still stick to making Folgers for awhile longer.


1 comment:

LadyLitBlitzin said...

How funny, I had read about Wolfgang Puck's self-heating coffee quite some time ago but had never actually seen it in a store. I guess its time has come.

I know there are a lot of old quotes about people making denigrating comments about how useful computers would be, like in 1977 Ken Olsen from Digital Equipment said, "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home." It is pretty funny to contemplate how unpredictable things are and just where technology may or may not take us. But yeah, so far, Jetsons, we are not! The Roomba is no Rosie Robot.