Wednesday, September 02, 2009


(You know how it works. Click on the picture to see it full size.)

A future-past is a term I use to indicate a one-time vision of the future that has been superseded. It's gone, baby, gone.

During World War II and the postwar era the future seemed very exciting. We were going to be flying to work in personal helicopters. We'd have personal robots doing our work for us. Best of all, we were going to have TELEVISION!

Magazines like Mechanix Illustrated, Popular Mechanics and comics like the 1951 Flash Gordon where I got this page were full of predictions.

Some of the predictions did come true; television did finally get its foothold in the late 1940s, and the predictions about TV in this page are future-past. They have more than come to fruition and gone far beyond. Where the futurists who wrote this page got it semi-wrong was on the plastic clothes. They had their day. We had polyester clothes in the 1970s and everybody hated them.

For the most part future planning is based on an extrapolation of the current time. In 1951 warming was a very slow process. The writer who told of a warm Antarctica years in the future didn't know about greenhouse gases or global warming, which pushed up the timetable a few thousand years.

The writer also blew it on the predictions of meat being grown in laboratories. Much as I wish they didn't have to slaughter animals, I don't think artificial meat--unless you count soy-based meat-like products--are anywhere in our future.

Where the writer got it right was in the part about "artificial moons," which we call satellites. But weather prediction isn't the only thing they're good for, as those with satellite TV or GPS devices can tell you.

You won't find much about computers or related topics in postwar future-think. At the time computers filled up whole rooms, and no one saw them as being something small enough to sit on a desk at work or home. As recently as the early 1990s we were yet to know the impact of the Internet, or of cell phones and peripheral electronic devices on our lives. Instant communication is the norm, now, and we're used to it and apparently we want our iPods, Blackberries, 22" LCD monitors, HDTV, and Blu Ray disks a lot more than we want plastic clothes.

Futurism of the 1940s probably started at the 1939 New York World's Fair, and it was incredibly optimistic. They didn't take into account poverty or racism, both of which were major parts of our social fabric, but which the futurists naïvely assumed would go away under the avalanche of technology. What technology has created is a have/have not society where our children feel deprived if they don't have the latest cell phone technology and you feel less than adequate if you have less than 150 channels on your TV. The twin devils of poverty and racism are still with us, and the gaps grow wider as we, through our technology, grow more distant from the society around us.

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