Sunday, December 27, 2009

EPCOT: The Future is Past

We visited Epcot in Disney World over the holidays.  Actually, we have been to Epcot many times since it opened in 1982.  As we went from pavilion to pavilion in Future World, I was struck by how much the future was becoming the past, how dated some of the exhibitions now seemed.  My daughter remarked that it might better be called EPCOY (Experimental Prototype Community of Yesterday) rather than the acronym where the T stands for Tomorrow.

I have always loved riding inside the huge sphere of Spaceship Earth.  For those who have not been there, it is a fifteen minute journey through the history of communication with your little car going by Disney Animatronic sets showing the evolution from cave painting to papyrus to the printing press to the personal computer.  It used to be that the last displays were about communicating in some not-too-distant future by videophone.  Now, the exhibition ends with someone who looked a bit like Steve Wozniak cobbling together a personal computer in his garage in 1979.  There is no future.  There is not even a Now.  I guess it got be be too expensive to keep chasing the rapidly evolving world we live in.  Still, a long dark tunnel does not seem to be a good way to end the ride.

In the Universe of Energy, the multimedia show is at least fifteen years old.  It is terribly out of date with regard to this rapidly changing field and only alludes in the smallest possible way to the importance of climate change.  Given the central place of energy, it seems a disservice to not update this pavilion.  Even our automated, moving theater seats seemed dated because the ride broke down midway through and we had to trudge off through an emergency exit.  This pavilion used to be sponsored by Exxon, then Exxon-Mobil, but they dropped sponsorship completely in 2004 and now there is no corporate sponsor.

By the way, Spaceship Earth, which used to be sponsored by AT&T, is now sponsored by Siemens.  The Land pavilion used to be sponsored by Kraft but is now also unsponsored.  The GM Test Track pavilion is still sponsored by its namesake, but who knows for how much longer?  Maybe it will become the Kia Test Track.  The film footage is way out of date, as are even the television monitors.  How can this be Future World?

Perhaps the whole idea of Epcot is also confined to the past.  Walt Disney imagined it to actually be a planned community built within Disney World, hence the name.  He could never get the board of directors to go for it.  They wanted Disneyland East.  Walt died in 1966 and his dream for the Experimental Community died with him.  His brother, Roy (who also just recently passed away), tried to carry on, and did build the Magic Kingdom and a much more commercial version of Epcot.  What opened in 1982 was more like a World's Fair than an experimental community but it did incorporate some of the infrastructure originally imagined by Walt Disney.

I still like Epcot.  I will probably go there again.  It just seems like a lost opportunity to say more about the future.  Maybe once the recession is over, Disney can get some corporate sponsors to ante up the money to update some of these pavilions.  But it isn't 1966 or 1982 and it is hard to find U.S. companies with the muscle or interest.  Maybe that is for the best as the future is likely to be with the Multinationals anyway.  I guess I am just nostalgic for the times when we seemed to be a leader in business and technology.  I'll get over it.

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