How to ensure your tech predictions catch on in a flash? Do the mash

All inventions should be demonstrated by a puppet doing a Tommy Cooper impression


Something for the Weekend, Sir? If the future was a song, it would be a mashup.

This only stands to reason as the world we live in, just like the one we used to live in, has always been a mix of old and new cultures. The challenge for futurists is to guess which bits of old-school tech will still be hanging around the neck of the new. And therein lies the fun: if you don't mash things up in the right way, you'll get the future wrong.

George Jetson commuting to work in a flying car? He'll probably be working from home. Guy Montag burnt all your books? Download them again to your Kindle. Ralf Hütter singing "I call this number (call this number) for a data date (a data date)"? Nah, these days he'd know what to do (what to do): he'd just swipe right for his rendezvous (rendezvous).

Speaking of which, I note that Feeld – the so-called "dating app for threesomes" – this week appointed a new CEO. I trust they're doing it as a jobshare.

Anyway, if you've ever listened to a futurist and thought they sounded a bit daft, it's probably because they didn't mash their alternative realities to the right consistency. A great leap directly into a world of space suits and chrome-plated hoverboards without a realistic dose of useless old tech yoked around its neck won't win your musical future any platinum discs. You'll just end up with a novelty one-hit-wonder – soon followed by a string of non-charting duds, contractual recriminations and the inevitable breakup of your band. So while you're fanning around telling everyone what life will be like in the year 2525, remember what happened to Zager and Evans.

I do love a good mashup but in my case it's probably because of the thrill of trampling carelessly across the chaos of time. Whether it's Steely Dan and Michael Jackson or Gary Numan and the Sugababes, the weight of history makes them seem all the more relevant today. Surely there's scope for a mashup revival during serial lockdowns. Arthur Askey and Front Line Assembly? The New Seekers and Psychic TV? Rod, Jane and Freddy with Cradle of Filth? Slipknot and the Spice Girls?

In terms of media culture, my favourite sci-fi mashup artist remains Gerry Anderson, videographer of dangly airships, puffy explosions, and marionettes gesturing like Tommy Cooper… which is topical because next Wednesday will be the first International Gerry Anderson Day.

Your response to reading the name "Gerry Anderson" is likely to depend on your age and geographical location. For some in North America, he was some bloke who made mildly successful mainstream TV sci-fi series such as Space Precinct and Space: 1999. For a middle-aged Brit, he was the inventor of something called Supermarionation and creator of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.

And if you like a good title sequence with a cracking theme tune performed by what sounds like John Barry's James Bond Orchestra while their percussionist was on cocaine, you still can't get much better than 1964's Stingray:

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In the early 1980s I could have sworn I heard a splendid live cover version by loopy Scot retro-wavers the Rezillos but never managed to track down a recording. Maybe it was an idle fantasy. Ah well.

The woefully dated theme, even by mid-1960s' standards, clashes beautifully with the futuristic look of everything – a classic mashup. Gerry Anderson kept returning to the same composer, Barry Gray, asking him to rewrite the same thing time and time again, eventually with hilariously awful results. You may remember the scary (and sexy) TV series U.F.O. with awe; the theme music less so.

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Let's leave the theme music to Space: 1999 well alone. If you think a crude mashup of Thus Spake Zarathustra and incidental music from Nympho Highschool Babes 3 is worthy of your time, you're welcome to hunt it down yourself.

The tech depicted in such TV series is also gloriously mashed up, which is why so much of it seems to make sense even now. None of the futuristic characters has tech surgically implanted into their bodies, for example, since you'd have to be a complete psycho puppet to do something like that; rather, Joe 90 uploads new skills to his brain via a hypnosis machine. Nobody swans around gleaming tech palaces; instead, Ed Straker leads a secret organisation to protect the world from aliens while headquartered in what looks like a brutalist hospital wing or trade union building. John Koenig and Dr Helena Russell pad up and down the corridors of Moonbase Alpha not in crinkly silver spacesuits but in stretchy sports clothing… who'd have imagined such a thing in the late 1990s?

Brains' videocall smartwatch makes a great case in point. In the real world, we don't like to integrate our tech, we prefer to carry it around even if doing so is clunky and inconvenient. If he'd been given his own series – a sorely missed opportunity following his star turn in the Drench ad – we could have seen him come up with workable mashup inventions such as a smart bandage that feeds healing process data back to an app, like this one. Magical healing capsules? Artificial flesh knitted onto wounds with 3D printing? Nope, a sticking plaster with bits of wire in it: that's the real future of healthcare.

A good mashup would reveal what criminals get up to in the future, too. Rather than hijack space shuttles or teleport in and out of bank vaults, they'd do what crims always do. They'd nick stuff that's lying about and try to hock it as quickly as possible.

I see this happening already. Where robbers of my youth would wear stripy shirts, carry a sack labelled "swag", and run down to the local pub with your dad's TV set, the in-thing for modern thieves is to steal electric car charging cables and sell them online. At a push, they send a phishing email to 10 million email addresses generated by a randomiser. In a realistic, mashed-up future, they generally do not bother to hollow out volcanos.

I hope this is a lesson to all futurists out there. If you want to "keep it real", get mashing and you can't go wrong. That is, you will be wrong – you are a futurist after all – but you will be acceptably off-kilter rather than completely hatstand. It'll make a nice change for you and your audiences who live long enough to find out for themselves how wrong you will be about everything else.

Oh, and that Slipknot-Spice Girls mashup?

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He was recently asked to complete a questionnaire on LinkedIn about regretting not following one's childhood hopes and dreams. Unfortunately, he has always wanted to be a freelance technology tart, and to this day he regrets not taking that boring, safe office job that had been suggested at the time. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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