The future is now

One of the things that DQ and I speak about with a fair degree of frequency is the fact that our generation does not have an optimistic vision of the future.  Yeah, sure, we’re all interested in the next generation of technology, but that’s really as far as it goes.  Indeed, I suspect that most people, indoctrinated in the frightening imagery of climate change, shy away from envisioning the future.  If they close their eyes and try to think 10, 20 or 50 years ahead, all they see are brown skies and a few outcroppings of desert dry land peaking up from filthy, massively flooded oceans.  Theirs is an apocalyptic, not a hopeful, vision.

In that regard, DQ and I agree, our generation is strikingly different from the WWII and 50s generations.  To them — and this was true despite hot wars and Cold, and atom bombs and biological weapons — the future was an endless feast of possibilities.  I still managed to catch the tail-end of that world view, thanks to the Disney show and Disneyland.

Do any of you remember how often the Disney Sunday show would have an episode focusing on the wonders of science and technology, and the way in which those wonders would improve our lives beyond comprehension?  Certainly I know that, when I was a little girl, my second most favorite part of Disneyland was Tomorrowland.  (The first favorite part, of course, was Fantasyland.)  I can still remember the wonder of the Monsanto ride, when we got to shrink to the size of a molecule.

The other ride I adored was the Carousel of Progress.  We’d watch life in a turn-of-the-century home, a 1920s home, a “modern” 1960s home and, if I remember correctly, a futuristic home that contemplated what might still be in the American household.  I loved the song too:  “It’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow!”  Can you imagine that sentiment today?  The show was retired from Disneyland decades ago, but ended up in Disney World.  I didn’t know that, and was so pleasantly surprised to see it again when we visited Disney World a couple of years ago.

Here, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can watch the whole thing:

Or think about the lovely musical Cover Girl, released in 1944, after WWII had been dragging on for so many years.  The dominant trope in the movie was that things would get better in the future.  Again, can you imagine this kind of song today?

The reason I’m thinking about all of this is because of a wonderful serious of Seagram’s ads created in Canada in 1943.  The ad campaign is called “Men Who Plan Beyond Tomorrow” and it envisions all sorts of things that the future will bring.  The ads are remarkably good at predicting faxes, sports bars (hockey, of course, since it’s Canada), cell phones, and other technology.  They were a little loopier when it came to shopping, no doubt because men, not women, wrote the ads.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about futurism, and whether it has a future in the here and now.

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  • Mike Devx

    Ah, an interesting question.
    I am VERY optimistic about the future… but not the next forty years.  And forty years is my minimum for “dark vision”.
    We live in a time that is anti-science, anti-progress, anti-freedom, anti-liberty.  Those cultural forces that are good are echoes from the past, and there is little going on today that is feeding those positive forces, keeping them going.  That is why there is a sense that the lights are going out; that there is pessimism.
    For me, this is true not only in America, but throughout the world.
    What we had in America was not only incredible economic progress.  That progress was tied to generations of Americans that *believed* in individual freedom and liberty, and, perhaps more importantly (!) individual RESPONSIBILITY.  It was in the very marrow of their bones.  Too many of us have lost it.  And while there are engines of prosperity out there, they lack that intrinsic sense of the value, dignity, and worth of the individual.  So I don’t see those engines producing continually.
    But there will be a rebirth, eventually.  There always is.  Will it be relatively soon?  E.g, in forty years, or will it take much longer?  And where will it happen?  I’d love to say it will be here, in America, and I’d love to see it happen in my lifetime.  But our severest financial crises loom about twenty to forty years into our future (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc etc, and the current liberal trends are pointing towards the depths of the financial catastrophes appearing ever worse), and we’re not even close to being prepared for them.
    Europe is facing financial, social and demographic catastrophes.  So is Russia.  Even China may not escape quite a few very difficult demographic trends.
    Where are the major innovations that could change all this?  It won’t be in computers.  One great possibility is the harnessing – and I mean COMPLETE MASTERY – of fusion power.  That would change everything.  It would change everything the way the invention of agriculture changed everything; it would be larger than our mastery of electricity and electric power.  Bigger than oil and gas.  The battles of scarcity over energy, usable water, and food could very well disappear completely.
    Our continuing investigation into genetics also has amazing transformational potential.
    Both of those complete transformations will occur someday.  I just have no idea when.  They, and other unforeseen transformations on a scale we can hardly imagine, mean complete optimism for me, in the long run.  But possibly not in my lifetime.

  • David Foster

    I’m pretty sure that the song “great big beautiful tomorrow” was sponsored by General Electric, as was much of the exhibit.  GE today would probably not be caught dead singing anything like that, but would rather focus on painting themselves as green as possible.

  • David Foster

    On the optimistic vs apocalyptic vision of the future…I’ve probably quoted this passage here before, but I’m afraid it’ very relevant:

    “The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew into richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they-this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that Man might hope again in wretched darkness.”

    –Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

  • Charles Martel

    Mike and David, what good and insightful things you’ve written here. (David, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” remains one of my favorite books, almost 50 years after I first read it.)

    Mike, I agree with you that we are at the edge of a dark age. How long and how deep, I cannot know. Just earlier today, watching an ad for the upcoming movie, “Eli,” which is about a post-apocalyptic wreck of a world, I remarked to my wife that there is an unconscious foreboding running through our society these days, one that is reflected in the spate of end-of-the-world movies that are coming out.

    We know we’re at some brink, even as the New York Times rushes to reassure us that it is the anteroom to a brave new world.

    My question is where will we go? Where do we make our stand? I’m very doubtful that the Marxist thugs and useful idiots now running parts of the U.S. government—ACORN, SEIU, Holder, Ayers, Obama, Pelosi, Justice Ginsburg—will refrain from trying to subvert the 2010 election. If they succeed, what then? Retreat to a remote valley in the Rockies? Get Texas to secede from the Union? Burn down Hollywood and squat in the remains? Migrate to Oz?