It's the 50th anniversary of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," the theme from they Disney Carousel of Progress (which debuted at the 1964 World's Fair in NYC). Keith met Richard Sherman, part of the Sherman brothers songwriting team responsible for the song.
He sez, "Last month I had the great pleasure of singing 'There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow' with Richard Sherman at his home. After we were done singing, he said to me, 'That's the first time I did that since Walt and my brother.' And yep, I filmed it! Coolest moment of my life. Wanted to share it with the whole world, basically."
On IO9, Vincze Miklos rounds up some of the finest sovkitsch futuristic imagery from three 1970s issues of the Soviet YA technology magazine Youth Technics (1, 2, 3) and other sources, presenting a gallery of streamlined jetpack socialism.
Some of the most famous images of Soviet futurism come out of the 1920s and 30s, when the Revolution was young and propaganda posters were like stark works of realist art. But the nation continued to produce works of incredible futurism throughout its reign — including during the trippy period before the Iron Curtain fell in the late twentieth century. Here are some visions of tomorrow, from the USSR in the 1970s.
From the March 12, 1967 episode of Walter Cronkite's CBS show "The 21st Century," a short clip illustrating the home office of tomorrow, with satellite news summaries and consoles that bring the work to us. Paleofuture has a great post about the whole episode:
This equipment here will allow [the businessman of the future] to carry on normal business activities without ever going to an office away from home.
This console provides a summary of news relayed by satellite from all over the world. Now to get a newspaper copy for permanent reference I just turn this button, and out it comes. When I’ve finished catching up on the news I might check the latest weather. This same screen can give me the latest report on the stocks I might own. The telephone is this instrument here — a mock-up of a possible future telephone, this would be the mouthpiece. Now if I want to see the people I’m talking with I just turn the button and there they are. Over here as I work on this screen I can keep in touch with other rooms of the house through a closed-circuit television system.
With equipment like this in the home of the future we may not have to go to work, the work would come to us. In the 21st century it may be that no home will be complete without a computerized communications console.
A terse Disney press release announced yesterday that the new Brad Bird movie will be called "Tomorrowland," and star George Clooney. It's not clear what it'll be about, but I have hopes for something gloriously, Gerbackianally retrofuturistic.
The Walt Disney Studios has announced that its live-action release previously known as 1952 will be titled Tomorrowland. The film will be released domestically on December 19, 2014. George Clooney (The Descendants) is set to star.
Tomorrowland is written by Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird from a concept by Lindelof and Jeff Jensen. Lindelof (Star Trek, Lost, Prometheus) will produce and Bird (The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) will produce and direct.
My Institute for the Future colleague Jake Dunagan is hosting a 24-hour online forecasting game to imagine the future of government services and civic engagement. It's called Connected Citizens and there are still a few hours left to play!
The near future holds epic opportunities for rapid innovation in government services. New civic technologies will be built with open data, ubiquitous cloud connectivity, and real-time sensing. Connected Citizens is a global conversation about how connectedness will change the relationship between citizens and governments, and how government services will be designed and delivered in the future.
Ramez Naam's debut novel Nexus is a superbly plotted high-tension technothriller about a War-on-Drugs-style crackdown on brain/computer interfaces. Kaden and his friends are Bay Area grad students who've hacked Nexus 3, a recreational party drug that nano-infests its users brains and makes them weakly telepathic while they dance the night away. What Kaden and his fellow bio-hackers do is build a Turing-complete virtual machine on top of this platform, port a lightweight version of GNU/Linux (or fictional analog) to it, and start running software on their own minds, arranging for strongly telepathic, hive-mind-style linkups.
This turns out to be a completely prohibited activity in the USA, where enforcement of a convention against posthuman and transhuman enhancement has spawned a DHS-on-steroids (heh) that can render its arrestees to internment camps without trial. The enforcement apparatus is nominally aimed at fighting neuroslavery, ghastly human trafficked sexbots, and apocalyptic cults whose followers are infected with god-viruses that make them worship the leaders as messiahs and render them pliant to their will. But the convention doesn't distinguish between hackers who conduct legitimate scientific inquiry and slavers and terrorists. Any advance in this sort of technology represents an existential threat to the human race, and it is not permitted, period.
Nexus tells the story of Kaden's kidnapping and blackmailing by the anti-trafficking enforcement side, who have the power of life and death over his friends and their wider circle of pals/experimental subjects. He is turned into an intelligence asset, charged with militarizing his research, and sent to entrap one of China's leading neuroscientists.
What follows is a beautifully plotted thriller, one that is full of delicious, thoughtful moral ambiguity. The power and cost of technology is thoroughly examined, turned over and peered at from every angle, and even the worst bad guys have at least a colorable claim on our sympathy at one moment or another. Naam is a hacker-turned-futurist who's run a nanotech startup, so the nerdly stuff all has the ring of truth. This is combined with excellent spycraft, kick-ass action scenes, and a chilling look at a future cold war over technology and ideology, making a hell of a read.
"Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches BLADE RUNNER. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day “reality” pallid by comparison."—Philip K. Dick writing to Jeff Walker at the Ladd Company, after watching a TV preview of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the film version of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. (Dangerous Minds)— Xeni
Here's a 15-minute industrial film promoting the Monsanto House of Tomorrow, an all-plastic house shaped like a wheel of gouda, which guarded Disneyland's Tomorrowland for many years, starting in 1957. As John Frost notes on The Disney Blog:
There was a time when Disneyland’s Tomorrowland positively reeked of futurism. Mass transportation, space exploration, and the benefits of scientific research were all put on a pedestal for the American public. One of the most famous examples of this was a partnership with Monsanto, MIT, and Imagineering to build a home made of plastics.
The home sat at the entrance to Tomorrowland, where the Pixie Hollow meet & greet is now, from 1957 to 1967. Touring inside the “House of the Future”, you would find a variety of innovations each with the promise of making living easier and more comfortable. From plastic furnishings to a microwave oven or electric dishwasher guests were wowed with what the future would bring. At least for a few years before these things actually did start to make it into the common household.
Fifty years ago this week, The Jetsons premiered. It only lasted 24 episodes (not including the mid-1980s "revival"), but it truly embodied the tech optimism of the time. In the world of professional futurism, The Jetsons (like a lot of science fiction) can be a great provocation for discussion. For example, every episode is filled with examples of futuristic tech that never happened, at least in the way that we imagined them in the 1960s. (Roomba vs. Roomba!) Clips of The Jetsons are also a fun way to draw out insights about the history of the future and why certain visions of tomorrow caught on at specific points in history. Over at Paleofuture, Matt Novak is has launched a series of posts titled "50 Years of the Jetsons: Why The Show Still Matters." His introductory post and recap of the first episode ("Rosey the Robot") are fantastic. From Paleofuture:
“The Jetsons” was the distillation of every Space Age promise Americans could muster. People point to “The Jetsons” as the golden age of American futurism because (technologically, at least) it had everything our hearts could desire: jetpacks, flying cars, robot maids, moving sidewalks. But the creators of “The Jetsons” weren’t the first to dream up these futuristic inventions. Virtually nothing presented in the show was a new idea in 1962, but what “The Jetsons” did do successfully was condense and package those inventions into entertaining 25-minute blocks for impressionable, media-hungry kids to consume.
And though it was “just a cartoon” with all the sight gags and parody you’d expect, it was based on very real expectations for the future. As author Danny Graydon notes in The Jetsons: The Official Cartoon Guide, the artists drew inspiration from futurist books of the time, including the 1962 book 1975: And the Changes to Come, by Arnold B. Barach (who envisioned such breakthroughs as ultrasonic dishwashers and instant language translators). The designers also drew heavily from the Googie aesthetic of southern California (where the Hanna-Barbera studios were located)—a style that perhaps best represented postwar consumer culture promises of freedom and modernity.
During World War II, a time when most manufacturing was concentrated on the war effort and Americans were living with ration books and scrap metal drives, advertising became a very strange thing. Companies wanted to make people aware they still existed, even though they weren't currently offering much for sale and unnecessary consumption was being discouraged. More importantly, the companies wanted Americans to associate their brand name with the promise of life after the War. So, what you got, were a lot of advertisements touting what this or that company was going to do just as soon as the Germans and Japanese were defeated.
The image above comes from a 1944 advertisement by the Association of American Railroads. That room is actually the lounge car on a train — or, rather, the hypothetical lounge car on an imaginary train that might be built after the War is over (provided the development of air travel and the construction of the interstate highway system don't doom the train industry to a slow decline). Basically, you had a lot of time when companies had little more than dreams to offer, so the dreams just kept getting bigger and bigger.
At the Paleofuture blog, Matt Novak writes about this ad as part of a larger trend, and offers up some examples of how the tendency to make big promises about the future of technology was being heavily critiqued even as it happened. Novak's posts help make sense of some of the more-ridiculous branches of midcentury futurism. For instance, by 1944 techno-dreamers were already beginning to imagine a future with a flying machine in every carport. At the time, it was helicopters, but it's not much of a leap to catch up to the more-iconic flying car.
The trouble — as pointed out in a 1944 issue of Science and Mechanics — is that owning a flying machine comes with safety and social concerns that make it a hard sell in the real world:
Science fiction writers aren’t fortune tellers. Fortune tellers are fakes. Fortune tellers are either deluded or charlatans. You can find science fiction writers who are deluded or science fiction writers who are charlatans — I can think of several of each in the history of the field. Every once in a while, somebody extends their imagination down the line, far enough with a sufficient lack of prejudice, to imagine something that then actually happens. When it happens, it’s great, but it’s not magic. All the language we have for describing what science fiction writers and futurists of other stripes do is nakedly a language of magic.
I’m having a week where some well-intentioned person on the internet describes me as “oracular.” As soon as one of the words with a magic connotation is attached — I know this from ongoing experience — as soon as someone says “oracular,” it’s like, boom! It’s all over the place; it’s endlessly repeated. It’s probably not bad for business. But then I wind up spending a lot of time disabusing people of the idea that I have some sort of magic insight…. You can also find, if you wanted to Google through all the William Gibson pieces on the net, you can find tons of pieces, where people go on and on about how often I’ve gotten it wrong. Where are the cellphones? And neural nets? Why is the bandwidth of everything microscopic in Neuromancer? I could write technological critique of Neuromancer myself that I think could probably convince people that I haven’t gotten it right.
Because the thing that Neuromancer predicts as being actually like the internet isn’t actually like the internet at all! It’s something; I didn’t get it right but I said there was going to be something. I somehow managed to convey a feeling of something. Curiously, that put me out ahead of the field in that regard. It wasn’t that other people were getting it wrong; it was just that relatively few people in the early 1980s, relatively few people who were writing science fiction were paying attention to that stuff. That wasn’t what they were writing about.
Warren Ellis has posted a transcript of "How To See The Future," they keynote he gave at the Improving Reality conference in Brighton, England this week. Ellis works his way through McLuhan's statement that "We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future." He's onto something -- our world is a strange admixture of the mundane and the fantastic, and as usual, Ellis's acerbic wit and vision is a bracing tonic that wakes us from our perambulatory slumber:
Imagine living in a Martian culture for a moment, where this thing is a presence in the existence of an entire sentient species. A mountain that you cannot see the top of, because it’s a small world and the summit wraps behind the horizon. Imagine settlements creeping up the side of Olympus Mons. Imagine battles fought over sections of slope. Generations upon generations of explorers dying further and further up its height, technologies iterated and expended upon being able to walk to within leaping distance of orbital space. Manufactured normalcy would suggest that, if we were the Martians, we would find this completely dull within ten years and bitch about not being able to simply fart our way into space.
Now imagine a world where space travel to other worlds is an antique curiosity. Imagine reading the words “vintage space.” Can you even consider being part of a culture that could go to space and then stopped?
If the future is dead, then today we must summon it and learn how to see it properly.
The Vintage Ads LJ group is having a theme-park ad theme-week, and as you might expect, this pleases me greatly. It's no surprise that the redoubtable Man Writing Slash has come through with some of the best submissions, including this smashing Space Mountain construction advertorial.