It is the year 1977. I am in third grade. German television shows Moon Base Alpha (Space: 1999) and for the first time, I take a look into the future.
The show is set in the year 1999, and among the most spectacular achievements – apart from the laser guns you can set to kill or stun – is the comlock. That is a device the inhabitants of the moon base carry with them on their belts, and which allows them to do two things: open the electric doors of the moon base, and communicate. For that purpose, the comlock has a tiny screen built into its upper side, which allows you to see the other person.
I am deeply fascinated by these devices and wonder whether something like that might indeed exist in the far future. I dream about it. I build a comlock in lego.
Of course the film crew does not have any comlocks, either. Many years later I will read that even the most spectacularly small ray tube of the time – and you can clearly see that the comlocks have ray tube monitors – did not fit into the comlock. Closeups were therefore shot using a model that was significantly larger than the props the actors wore on their belts.
The tiny screens almost never show anything except talking heads. Actually, the computers in the moon base communicate with the inhabitants either via printers (but there’s nowhere a trash can for the produced paper), or via artificial voices, engaging the humans in mysterious dialog. All that is enough to make me and my friends utterly excited and long for the future.
What would we have said if we had known that, in the unfathomable future of thirty, fourty years later, we would not carry around comlocks but fluorescent glass panes, and that all knowledge of mankind would be accessible through them, plus communication with any human that happens to live in the same century. Oh, and video calling also works, but it’s about the most boring thing you could do with these glass panes.
I guess we would have acknowledged that this unfathomably far future does make good on what we expect from it, and continued to play longingly with our legos.
(Note: This was originally a German article, written for the German blog Techniktagebuch. But there is no fair use in German copyright law, and so we could not include the images, not even if the material is from a British television programme, and even the blog is hosted in the US – it is enough that a German audience is addressed. So I decided I’d rather address an English audience and include the images under fair use. We would probably not have expected that from the future.)