Saturday, April 17, 2010

Step back and look at the future

I like looking at old magazines for a look at the way we Americans were as a culture, especially in the early half of the Twentieth Century.
I found these looks at the future in 1940s issues of Life, made available on Google Books online. An ad asks the reader to, "Imagine Bob Hope on television!" At that time television was right around the corner. Work on bringing television to the public had been going on since the 1920s, but was suspended during the war. The postwar world was ready for television, not just to see Bob Hope.

I believe many people in this country were like my mother, who, bless her, didn't have interest in anything that might be coming down the pike, affecting her future. As she put it, "Television...I didn't know anything about it. Hadn't heard anything about it. Then one day I looked and it was just there."

Television technology of the 1940s is long gone, replaced by digital.

There was a certain optimism to the future in those postwar days. A lot of predictions were fanciful: paper clothes, or personal helicopter/cars zipping us to work (both ideas abandoned, apparently). Rocket ships to the moon were a topic, and that happened. When I was growing up in the 1950s I was impatient for humans to go into space, but didn't think they'd land on the moon for decades to come. Nowadays we have a debate on whether or not to go back to the moon, or what our longterm goals are for space. We use space to do things on earth: communication, weather, spy satellites etc., telescopes to see into the past with light reaching us from millions of years ago, helping our understanding of the universe.

I'd like to see us go back to the moon, or to Mars, but I think it's a way off, and perhaps some private entrepreneurs will find a way to do it cheaper than the government.

Above is a 1946 vision by artist Chesley Bonestell on what a trip to the moon would look like. He was the first artist I remember to draw earth as it would actually appear from space, and not like a classroom globe. His paintings filled me with a sense of wonder.

The 1944 Canadian Whiskey ad for the fax machine/Internet/cable news channel television set seems eerily close to what happened 50 years after the ad saw print. Except for printing off our online newspapers "overnight" the ad is pretty close, close enough to call it prophetic. I never saw any of the Internet or communications technology being as big a part of our lives as it has become. But for every postwar prediction of future life that came true in some form or another, there are a hundred that didn't. That's because the predictions didn't take into account the costs, which have stopped many a project in its tracks.

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