Don’t beam us up quite yet, Scotty!

By ELIJAH JONES,

2020. That can't be right, is it really the year 2020? 

Back in the day, this little boy growing up on Fairley Street, often wondered what the future would be like.  Well, if you're my age, let's not kid ourselves, the future has arrived!  I remember a TV show called Space: 1999, starring Martin Landau.  (Anyone else remember?) 

The show debuted in 1975, and the very idea of the year 1999 seemed so-o-o-o far into the future.  And now, here's the irony.  Today, 1999 seems like "the old days."  In fact, if they did a remake of the TV series, Happy Days, I guess it would be set in the 90's.  Hard to believe we're talking over twenty years ago.

The original Star Trek TV series (1967) was my ticket to what the future might be like.  I'm a little disappointed, since the series aired, space travel hasn't progressed as far as I'd expected. I watched on my family's 21" black & white TV set as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969.  I was still in junior high school, looking on in amazement as Mr. Armstrong took that "one small step for man."  I figured, surely by now (this is the future after all), we would have set up a colony on Mars.  But, except for in the movies, we haven't even landed a human on Mars yet.  Hey, NASA, let's get with it! (According to most science experts, people walking on Mars is not going to happen anytime soon.)

But remember the handheld tricorders Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock used on Star Trek to communicate with Starship Enterprise?  I'd say today's smartphones are a pretty good approximation of those devices.  How long before "Beam me up, Scottie" becomes an actual thing, right? 

The reason I've always been more of a Star Trek fan, as opposed to Star Wars, is a simple one.  Star Wars was set in some unknown galaxy far, far away.  (Oh, who cares?)  On the other hand, Star Trek imagined what our own future would be like, as we traveled, at warp speed, far beyond our Milky Way galaxy.  What could be more amazing than seeing from space, this cosmic grain of sand on which we reside, our planet Earth?  Which brings me to something else.

In imagining our future, Star Trek was part of the "United Federation of Planets."  Obviously, we were so technologically advanced by then, humankind had left the confines of Earth, having linked up with civilizations from other planets.  I would imagine though, for that to be possible, we humans would have, first,finally had to resolve our own differences here on Earth, uniting as a single planet.  Sad to say, looks like that's still a planet, far, far away.  In fact, we can't even seem to get united, right here in these United States.

Since my childhood days, I've always maintained a Star Trek view of the future.  The series was quite Pollyannaish in its view of  what 23rd century life would be like, and I shared that Utopian hope. 

More than 50 years ago, way back in the 20th century, I was one of the first group of African-American students to integrate Hawkins Jr. High (now an elementary school).  I brought Star Trek's view of the future with me to school everyday. By the time I started at Hawkins in 1967, I'd had almost no interaction with white children my age, and wanted so much to be accepted by my white classmates.  To Hawkins' credit, thanks to the compassionate stewardship of our school principal, the late Billy Rogers, there were very few racially-charged incidents at our school.

In fact, speaking of the future, Mr. Rogers was a man ahead of his time.  He worked hard welcoming his new students of color to Hawkins.  I wasn't always the most well-behaved kid but, apparently, Mr. Rogers took a liking to me, in spite of my sometimes naughty antics. He even wrote my mother a note once, telling her what a good citizen I was. "Good citizen" were two words Mr. Rogers reserved for his favorite students.    My mother kept the kept the note forever.  (I'll never forget that.) But there I go, getting off subject again.

Eleven-year old kid that I was my first year at Hawkins, growing up watching Star Trek, I took for granted that as the future approached and humankind evolved, prejudice and racism would be less of an issue in our advanced society.  Thankfully, in some ways, that would be true.  But, I must admit, as we enter what is now the third decade of the 21st century, looks like we still have a ways to go.  Frankly, I'm very concerned about the divisions present in today's United States, political or otherwise.  

2020 is also a Presidential election year, but here's my concern.  Regardless of how this November's election turns out, I fear our divisions will remain, or may even get worse. 

Those divisions are exacerbated by what has become a foil for our getting along in this new age.  The future has brought with it, the Internet.  With the click of a few buttons (just like on The Jetsons) we have access to, literally, a whole world of knowledge and information.  Sounds like a good thing and, I believe, most of us will agree, it is. But there's a caveat.  

While filling our brains with useful information, the Internet can also muddle our knowledge, stirring our emotions, and in a negative way.  Here's how it happens. Whatever your political persuasion, you can instantly find "news" that confirms, for better or worse, that which you've already made up in your mind to be true.

Worse, self-serving foreign players are involved in this foul-tasting gumbo of misinformation.  The Russians, in particular, are hard at work.  Posing as Americans, Russian bots invent stories, disguised as news, that simply aren't true.  Their "fake news" stories show up daily on social media.  As sensational and, yes, false as their "news stories" may be, because they feed into some of our own prejudices, many Americans believe them.  They then share these inflammatory fallacies online, as if they were truth.  

Some people share these posts, knowing the stories are false, "playfully" insisting they're simply trying to aggravate their liberal or conservative friends.  All in good fun?  Hardly.  A dangerous game is being played here.  In 2020, does truth still matter?  

This kid from Hawkins Jr. High was hoping for a brighter version of the future, than the one we seem to be barreling into.  I'm not giving up on things getting better, though.  (There's that Pollyanna in me.)  From civil wars to world wars, from McCarthyism to Jim Crow, our country has survived some of the most evil challenges thrown our way.  And I have no doubt, as America has in the past, we'll survive the turbulent times we're going through today.

As we enter 2020, the economy seems to be chugging along just fine and, yes, that's a good thing.  But there are things more important in life than the balance in our checking accounts.  Gun violence, overpopulation, climate change (an issue we ignore at our peril),  terrorism, the constant threat of war, they're all out there.  Slowly, over time, or even immediately, one or more of these issues can quickly deflate even the best of economic times.

We Baby Boomers are yesterday's children.  The things we grew up with defined our "modern" age.  21" black & white TV sets gave way to color.  Those old rotary-dial telephones had to make way for push-button models.  And remember those long driving trips with the family?  Dad brought along the trusty Rand-McNally road atlas to help guide us to our destination.  Technology feeds off itself, so just imagine what the future holds for today's children.    

They'll look back at flat screen smart TVs, the latest iPhone, even GPS and think, "How quaint."  I wonder what amazing technological advances await their future.  I'm sure they'll witness a woman or, who knows, maybe even a man, take those first small steps on the planet Mars.  

My only hope is that today's adults (that would be us) will put more thought into the world we're leaving behind.  I've noticed on social media, from conservatives and liberals alike, they all declare the same thing.  The future is about our children.  Well, yeah, they're so right.  

Only thing is, I think our parents did a better job setting things up for our future than we appear to be doing for today's children. 

It's time for us to start behaving more responsibly.  Borrowing from Mr. Rogers, it's time for us to be...good citizens.  

Hey, don't beam us up just yet, Scottie.  Our mission is not yet finished, here on planet Earth.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Elijah Jones is a writer and a proud graduate of the Hattiesburg Public School System and the University of Southern Mississippi. Send him an email at: edjhubtown@aol.com