I used to read a lot of science fiction in my younger days and then started watching science fiction movies. One of the attractions for me was to get a glimpse into what could be. What kind of creatures could exist? What kind of landscape would exist? What would the society of the future look like? what would the future lifestyle be? These were a few things that intrigued me most.
The here and now is familiar. Any differentiation needs separation. Alternate realities need to be distant from our here and now. Distant in terms of time and space. For some reason distance enhances variety and longing.
I remember the long train journeys that I took during the summer vacations. Starting from my familiar home town and slowly winding through the province passing through small and large towns, mostly unfamiliar. The platforms looked familiar due to the form and function but different due to the characteristics in terms of attire of people, color scheme and other constructs. The cuisine changed and so did the dialect and accent every few hundred kilometers.
My first trip to a Gulf country was to Oman. As I boarded the plane in Mumbai, I tried to imagine how the city of Muscat would be. My inspiration was from the Arabian nights and I expected to see bazaars, carpets hanging from shops etc. As the plane made its way over the Arabian sea, I could see the changing landscape and wondered who lived below and what the streets looked like. What they spoke and ate.
Then I made my first trip to London and looked forward to riding the famous British cab and Double-Decker that I read about in the books. As I was on the road from London to Coventry, I could see farm land along the road and rolled up bales of hay in the distance as far as the eye could see. I was also fascinated by the condensation on the bus window because I never saw that in sweltering Mumbai or Muscat. The sounds and sights were so distinct. It would never be possible to preserve the unique sights, sounds and scenes of these unique places if it were not for the distance.
As we develop technologies and bridge the distances, we are also unfortunately witnessing the dilution of unique cultures and the emergence of uniform mishmash of a global culture. The future generations are likely to be deprived of the uniqueness of distant places that used to conjure a sense of adventure and excitement in my childhood days. Right now most American cities look identical with the same big box stores and signage. However, on the brighter side, the same technologies may bridge larger distances to bring to us the adventure and excitement of inter galactic discoveries. In that sense, I think this cultural aggregation is an unavoidable first step towards greater things.
I look forward with great excitement to developments at SpaceX and exploration of the new Em Drive concept of using microwave propulsion to travel at high speed. This could compress a journey to Mars to less than 80 days.
We already have pictures of earth from a distance. The pictures beamed back by the various space crafts that have journeyed across our solar system and beyond. From that distance our planet looks like a Blue marble. Everything seems pacific and tranquil. As we zoom in to ground level, the tranquility is shattered by the noise of the traffic in metros, the fighting in the conflict zones and fortunately there are still plenty of pacific tranquil spots on earth where you can go to unwind and rejuvenate.
If we survive as a civilization, the future seems very exciting.