CAMDEN A few years ago, my wife and I traveled to the Black Hills of South Dakota and visited Mt. Rushmore. While visiting the memorial, I came across something unexpected: A sign, hung on a fence like set dressing from a dystopian sci-fi film, informed visitors that the launching, landing and use of aerial drones was prohibited. It had a shadowy outline of a drone with the familiar circle with a line through it to show that indeed, drone use was a no no.
That was probably the first moment I had that technology surpassed me. I’m young enough that personal computers and the internet were part of my adolescence. Even though I owned my first smart phone in my 20s, their wasn’t a sharp learning curve. But at some point, these things stopped seeming like current events and started to seem strange and futuristic.
Think about it: More than half the population carries a portable device capable of accessing more knowledge than the scope of humanity has ever had. Granted, it’s mostly used to look at cat videos and complain about politics, but the potential is there.
Our phones have personal assistants that are voice controlled. Although, admittedly, mine is mostly used to set timers when I’m cooking.
I looked at my bookshelf this morning and in front of the row of Stephen King novels sat my wife’s Kindle, which could hold more information than those two book cases could hold. Around 15 years ago, all this would seem like some far flung science fiction movie.
Back when the Discovery Channel actually showcased programs that were educational and not cheaply-produced reality shows, there was a program called Beyond 2000 that aired segments on the upcoming technology and the latest happenings of innovation. It occurred to me recently that we’re just that: Beyond 2000. Even the year seems futuristic. We’re only nine months from 2020. It’s bizarre.
Arkansas in general isn’t known as a bastion of progress, but there’s one company looking to change that.
Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corporation is at the forefront of technological advances in South Arkansas. They’ve brought solar power to a region where under a 100 years ago, most of the residents didn’t have electricity.
Likewise, they are bringing high-speed internet and fiber connectivity to rural areas that desperately need them. This isn’t high concept speculation, either. They’ve installed the fiber and are working to improve a communications network sorely in need of an upgrade.
Perhaps the most marvelous - and by far the most futuristic - piece of technology that Ouachita Electric has brought to South Arkansas lately is a Tesla electric vehicle. I had the privilege of riding in it when Mark Cayce, general manager of Ouachita Electric, spoke at a Lions Club meeting.
I was amazed at how silent the car was. The familiar low rumble of a combustion engine was absent, eerily replaced by a barely-perceptible whine. The car had a large tablet-like device mounted on the dash that had readouts of the speedometer, current speed limit, and how much charge the car had left.
It even had an autopilot feature that took curves by itself. After the car took a curve just before the Y Mart area, I had a moment like the one in South Dakota. I no longer had to wait for the future. It was here. Propelling me along a highway in Arkansas.