Just outside my flat lies a freight rail line. Multiple times a day locomotives are required to stop just outside my flat’s window while waiting for the lights to change so they can head on down to Port of Tyne. On my day off this morning I was sitting reading on my Kindle, having taken breakfast and my morning’s prescriptions. Prompted by the sound of a locomotive stopping outside my window, I glanced out and saw the locomotive’s cab, and that it was named “The Paviour”.
Not knowing what “The Paviour” referred to, I switched to Safari on my iPad Mini 4 I was reading on, opened a new tab and entered “paviour” then pressed Enter. Thanks to the wonders of WiFi, within seconds I was reading a copy of a press release from GB Railfreight (the operators whose locomotive was still sitting there waiting for the lights to change) about that very locomotive:
NEWS STORIES - SEPTEMBER 14, 2018
GB Railfreight, in partnership with The Worshipful Company of Paviors, is today (14th September) pleased to announce the naming of its new locomotive, The Pavior. The locomotive, number 66758, was christened at a ceremony at Tarmac’s Harper Lane site in Radlett at 12.30pm this afternoon. The loco is named in honour of The Worshipful Company of Paviors, who were historically responsible for the pavements of the City of London, and over the years have been critical to the development of the craft of paving, road making, general construction and infrastructure. Its modern membership includes the leaders of construction in the UK. The loco will be used across the GBRf business and numerous routes going forward.
I was just a couple of select-text-and-click operations away from a Wikipedia article telling me more than I needed to know about [The Worshipful Company of Paviors] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worshipful_Company_of_Paviors). If I’d wanted to I could also have checked out their Facebook page.1
If you’d described that scene to me fifty years ago, as a science fiction-obsessed kid, then I’d have agreed that it was entirely possible that one day we’d have access to a World Brain2 that could answer that sort of question, if asked.
If you’d told me that I’d see it in my lifetime, I’d have been more sceptical.
I’m pretty sure that ten year-old me was not yet aware that ARPANET had already been operating for several years and that its’ successor was destined to grow into all this.
Granted I imagined that a World Brain would be capable of pulling all the relevant information into a single response, but it’s pretty amazing what can be found on the world Wide Web and how easy it is - even on hardware like mine, several generations behind the state of the art - to find out stuff and fall down the rabbit hole of following up on links. Wikipedia is by no means perfect, but it’s pretty damned good. 3
I often talk about how even my old and underpowered iPad feels like it’s from a science fictional future, and this morning’s experience of seeing “The Pavior” and finding out more about it underlined how right that description is. Twenty years from now a future me might just have to think that query to get a similar response, but I’m happy to leave the fun of dealing with virtual spam and adblocking and who-knows-what-else in whatever we end up calling Web 6.0 to future generations. This is plenty of future for now.
We really are living in the future, aren’t we? We didn’t send humans back to the Moon as soon as I was expecting, let alone to Mars. Nor did we send humans to see Jupiter’s Great Red Spot yet, but that’s mostly because growing up in the era when the British and French governments had proclaimed that Concorde was going to be flying under more than two carrier’s flags gave my generation a skewed sense of how fast technology was changing the world. At ten, I had no clue of the commercial realities of a world where I’d seen a poster illustrating what Concorde was going to look like in the liveries of umpteen different carriers. 4
The Future is still out there, it’s just progressing in fits and starts. (And accompanied by the early stages of climate change for which we are decidedly not ready.)
(On a narrower note, if you’d told me a decade ago that within minutes I’d be drafting a weblog post about all this and posting it to my blog (using nothing fancier than a Markdown-friendly text editor and the ability under the Files app to move the completed .MD file from one Dropbox folder to another) I’d have been astonished that I wasn’t needing to fire up WordPress to get that done. Blot.im is limiting in some respects,5 but it’s pretty great.)
I avoid Facebook like the plague - if it does something you want then that’s fine, go for it, but it does nothing for me - so I wasn’t remotely tempted to follow that link.↩︎
Possibly called HAL-10000.↩︎
Wikipedia even reminded me that it was inaccurate, as I did when I started drafting this post, to refer to the locomotive’s destination as “Tyne Dock.” That was just laziness on my part.↩︎
Show me a version of that poster but with the Boeing 747 replacing Concorde and I don’t think I’d have been as impressed. Juvenile nationalism combined with a love for thangs that looked like the future. The same processes that made me think that Space: 1999 was the shape of the future.↩︎
In the short term, I’m probably going to complicate posting slightly by using a copy of Jekyll (possibly on my Macbook Air, possibly hosted online somewhere) to spit out local copies of HTML code based on my Markdown files and move those files over to the Dropbox folder where Blot.im can see them to publish them. Unless I come up with a Better Idea.↩︎