'The worst thing about the future,' said a young friend of mine, 'is that it's so boring. It's in the Sunday Times every week, and if you miss that it's always on Tomorrow's World or the Discovery channel. What's really interesting is the past. The guys just can't get enough of it. Everyone I know is obsessed with shooting radar into the ground to find old tombs, digging up plague pits, reconstructing Roman cities, X-raying skulls, counting teeth . . .'
A typical young person's view, I thought, and I made the following reply: When you get a bit older you'll find yourself much more interested in the future. That's when you'll find out that the future is entirely created by old people. They didn't send teenagers into space first you know; even the monkeys were old.
Where did that idea come from?
Well, whatever happens, happens first in the us. In architecture, everything worth a light from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry has come from the us. The best Archigram ideas, like computer city, the cushicle and the suitaloon, came from America via nasa and the space race.
So? What's that got to do with old people?
Only that in the us today an entirely new kind of society is creating itself with its own system of housing, its own system of communications, and its own corporate backing. And everybody in it is over 60 and single.
Sounds like a cult to me.
Well, maybe. But on the other hand maybe not. Have you ever heard of Slab City?
It's an abandoned military base in California right on top of the San Andreas Fault. A place where people who live on the road stop over. Not just a few drifters but thousands of senior citizens who cruise the American West from the deserts in the south in the winter, to the forests of the Pacific Northwest in the summer. They just follow the seasons.
That doesn't sound very futuristic to me. Americans have been doing that for years, in the 1960s they called them snowbirds.
A few have been doing it for years, but now the numbers are doubling every decade. There's reckoned to be well over a million now. The increase in early retirement, advances in geriatric medicine, new motor-home technologies, all of that is making it easier and easier to have no fixed abode. American motor homes are not like our poky caravans you know, they can be more like mobile condominiums. The whole phenomenon is like a real-life Archigram, all of it, except that everyone's old. They are the pioneers. 'Listen to the old' was the slogan of Dr David Suzuki, the Canadian doyen of West Coast anthropologists. Listen to the old, he used to say, because they know what's going to happen to you. Before moving pictures and recorded sound, the memories of the old were the principal repositories of collective wisdom.
Just a minute. What was that you said about corporate backing, where's the corporate backing for these aged pioneers?
It's been in all the papers. I'm surprised you missed it. The Sony Corporation has decided that its future lies in linking consumers to services through television, computers and mobile phones. Sony won't any longer be a manufacturer of consumer electronics, it will be a provider of digital network services to what it calls a 'network-centric world'.
Which means that nobody will need to be in one place any more. Everybody will be given a telephone number at birth. Nobody will actually have to live anywhere. Worldwide, they will be able to live everywhere.
And old people think that's a good idea, do they?
Listen to the old, my boy! Remember, they are the ones who know what's going to happen to you next.