Tech writers have been playing the tech prediction game—usually pretty poorly—for as long as people have been attaching sticks to rocks, and then getting jealous because someone else’s stick-and-rock was sleeker and had a nicer case. Among all this talk of microprocessors—or the laughable notion of a computer that takes up only a single warehouse, instead of two—it can be easy to overlook the social or personal consequences of all those proposed advances.
Writer Esther Schindler, one-time tech editor for Smart Reseller magazine, reposted this excerpt from the magazine today, in which she asked computer writer (and Hugo-winning novelist) David Gerrold to predict the future of modern computing, way back in 1999. Gerrold responds by painting a picture of a pocket-sized computer that combines a dozen different connected devices—cellphone, music player, camera, etc.— into one handy, pocket-friendly package. Besides basically describing the modern smartphone in its entirety, though, Gerrold also goes a little further, dubbing his creation the “PITA” (or Pain In The Ass), positing what a supremely annoying drain such a device would be on the privacy and attention of everyone forced to carry it to function in the modern world. In other words: Nailed it!
As several people on reddit have pointed out, 1999 was post-Palm Pilot and the earliest Blackberrys, so Gerrold—also, incidentally, the writer of the classic Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”—wasn’t pulling these guesses out of nowhere, exactly. That being said, it’s hard to deny the prophetic punch of that last line, with its harbinger of a world in which we’re all just a few button presses—and the corresponding buzzes, beeps, and calm-piercing chirps—away from each other and our stupid thoughts, feelings, and opinions at any given moment.