When science fiction has an expiration date

Philip K. Dick (here in a drawing by Peter
Welsch) predicted the invention of the mobile
phone.
There is a certain kind of science fiction that tends to have an expiration. These are usually those stories set in a more or less near future as part of our real timeline. It does not happen if the events take place in a galaxy far, far away, if we imagine that the aliens arrive today, or if we invent a time machine that takes us into the past. But if we try to create a story with a more or less precise time denotation in the future, no doubt in twenty years, but also ten, many of the things that we have described will be antiquated, anachronistic, because, as we try to imagine what happens, to do so we have to rely on what we know and do not have the means to know exactly how the technology will evolve.

It is clear that this does not at all diminish the artistic and entertainment value of certain books (as well as movies or TV series, even if they suffer more of this issue because of the visual element that leaves little to the imagination) created thirty or fifty years ago, because what makes them beautiful is independent from the details of the setting itself. It's no coincidence that cinema constantly draws on the so-called classic science fiction to create films that are all except anachronistic. You take the story, which is what really matters, and present it based on today's standards of perception of the future. And it works, actually it works great.
What remains, however, is the fact that while re-watching some old films or re-reading certain books you tend to smile in learning about colonies on Mars in the 90s of the twentieth century or computers using punched cards in 2000 or people looking for a phone booth in the next century.
Sometimes this anachronism is due to an excessive optimism about goals reachable by mankind in the near future, in other cases, it is due to the inability to see in your head a reality which is really other than that in which you live.
Who writes this type of fiction must sooner or later come to terms with this problem, because it may be that what we imagine today would be denied in a few years by what really happens (or does not happen).
There is also a phenomenon that is opposite to the above-mentioned one or that is partially mixed to it. There are authors from the past who, for a magical intuition, described technology or situations that are very close to what we see today.

In the famous novel "Ubik" by Philip K. Dick, published in 1969, but set at the end of the last century, characterized by a plot that could be applied to any historical period (because independent of science fiction itself), along with improbable technologies, there is the appearance of an object that we know very well, but that would have been invented many years after the publication of the book: a mobile phone.

But what you notice even more today is an extreme version of this phenomenon. Instead of seeing science fiction drawing from science to create the background or the engine of stories, it happens that science inspires from the imagination of authors, including those from the past, to create objects that seem to come straight from the big screen or the pages of a book.
Now we have spectacles with augmented reality, smart TV that responds to your gestures, your window becomes an enormous transparent screen (touch screen, of course), just to name a few. All (very useful?) objects that seem to want to project us into the near future, a thousand times seen in the movies or books, as if that future were something already decided, which we are destined to reach.
But how many of these (kind of frivolous) inventions will survive the passage of time? And what if, instead of becoming part of our everyday life, as in exciting science fiction stories read by those who have invented them, they would prove to be in a few years no less anachronistic than a thousand other inventions described in those same stories?

This article is originally available in Italian on Kipple Blog.