In certain vintage SciFi, the key signifier that you were in a cool futuristic world was the presence of robots. “Metropolis” had its robot Maria, “Forbidden Planet” had Robby the Robot, “Star Wars” had R2D2 and C3PO, and “Lost in Space” had an endearing Class M-3 Model B9, General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot.
But it seems we have moved on, and robots are sooo yesterday’s tomorrow.
Now your future requires a flat rectangular display that floats in midair, as recently seen in “Iron Man”, “Eureka”, “District 9”, “The Hunger Games” and a host of cheesy commercials by everyone from Apple Computer to Microsoft to Corning Glass.
Why these displays need to be rectangular is anybody’s guess. It is one of the eternal mysteries, like the question of why that magical object for instant gratification you are holding in your hand needs to be so artfully rounded (I meant your SmartPhone. Please get your mind out of the gutter).
The change makes sense. In 20th century America, the robot was a signifier of an essentially industrial economy — the “impossible object” that represented the technological aspirations of such an economy.
The magical rectangular display floating in the air is the corresponding impossible object to signify the technical aspirations of an information-based economy.
Once we have moved on, in another twenty years or so, to a nano/neuro-based economy, I wonder what we will choose as our new impossible object.