Wearable Technology in Fiction

Maybe the decade from 2000 to 2009 could be called the Dick Tracy decade. Mobile phone technology finally caught up with the Dick Tracy science fiction wrist phone of the early 1940s.

I suspect that when our grand children look back, they will view these times as a series of Digital Decades that will have come to comprise a Computing Century. I think computer miniaturization and mobility are the number one digital development for the past decade, but Web 2.0 technologies like wikis, blogs, Facebook and Twitter come in a close second.

Another piece of wearable technology from the golden age of science fiction is Isaac Asimov‘s “temporal field generator“, which is a plot device used in Asimov’s time travel story, The End of Eternity.

For Asimov’s imagined time travel technology, most paradoxes are avoided by supposing that a new Reality is created if you go back in time and change the course of events. As long as you wear your “physiotime field generator” you will not be erased from existence by killing your own grandparent.

Noÿs asks: “And what if they make the Change while you’re there?”

Andrew replies: “It won’t catch me…my wrist generator keeps me in physiotime so that a Change can’t affect me, you see.”

We still have a long way to go in order to have a real “physiotime field generator”, but wearable technology already includes some devices for monitoring and controlling physiological processes. Some people wear heart rate and blood pressure monitors.

In The Start of Eternity, during the early days of time travel there are no personal physiotime field generators. R. Nahan travels back in time to save Gohrlay, but he is “caught” in the Reality Change and erased from existence. Asimov imagined time travel technology coming into existence several centuries in our future, but he also played around with the idea of taking knowledge of time travel into the past in order to speed the development of time travel technology. Why did Nahan never get help from his future self? I blame the Huaoshy.

If time travel is possible, what would keep the past from being over-run by meddling time travelers? Asimov imagined a future time in which humans decided that time travel was a BIG MISTAKE, so they eliminated the technology. But if a technology is discovered once, can you really prevent it from being discovered a second time? A “sure fire” way to make time travel impossible is explored in The Start of Eternity.

Images. 1) The Dick Tracy “wrist radio”. 2) A modern wrist phone. 3) Wearable heart rate and blood pressure monitor. 4) Time travel kettle (for image credits click here).


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