It's been said, with some truth, that SF writers have given up thinking seriously about the near future. The problem, so the commonplace wisdom goes, is that so many elements of the real world are now changing so rapidly, and so unpredictably, that there's no sense of a clear path before us. By contrast, writers used to have it a lot easier in the past. They could see the way things were going, they could sense the winds of change. The pace of technological and social change was quickening, but it had yet to turn into a blizzard of endless innovation and rapid obsolescence. The foundations of the present seemed surer.
I'm not sure about this. I agree that serious speculation about the near future has, with some honorable exceptions, been generally neglected - and I've scarcely got good form in this regard - but I'm not convinced that there is anything particularly difficult about writing about the future now, as opposed to twenty or fifty or a hundred years ago. That, it seems to me, would be making a claim that there is something exceptional about our own time, and I'm not sure that this is the case. There is a very powerful interpretive principle in science which says that it is unwise to make any exceptional statements about one's own viewpoint. In cosmology, for instance, insisting that the Earth is at the center of things leads to a cockeyed view of the universe in which the celestial clockwork has to be jigged to make the Sun go around the Earth. It is much simpler, and more elegant, to assume that the Earth occupies no special position within the solar system. Just as powerfully, demoting the Sun to the status of being merely another star leads to a richer appreciation of our own unexceptional place within the Milky Way galaxy. And assuming that the Milky Way is itself an unexceptional spiral galaxy leads to the staggering appreciation that the Big Bang was the creation not just of matter, but of the very fabric of reality, spacetime. Heady stuff, indeed - and what does it have to do with SF? Not much, perhaps, but I'd suggest that that same Principle of Mediocrity - the rejection that our viewpoint is priveleged - ought to apply just as squarely to history as it does to observations of planets and galaxies.
Whether or not SF is the literature of the Enlightenment, or the Industrial Revolution, it has existed in the form that we currently recognise it for only a couple of centuries, and perhaps rather less than that. I would argue, in fact, that there has been almost no point in the last 150 - 200 years in which the future has been any easier or harder to prognosticate than is now the case. 2012 is an astonishingly difficult thing to get a handle on - but then again, 1912 must have seemed much the same. HG Wells, who was born a century before me, lived to see electricity, mechanization, powered flight, two world wars, atomic weapons, radio, television and the dawn of the jet age. That's an astonishing number of things to cram into one life - but I don't think Wells' life was exceptional in that regard. Much the same could be said of almost any writer born since the start of the nineteenth century. The future has always been arriving faster than we might wish, and it certainly has no requirement to make life easier for SF writers.