|Exhibit Building. Note the lines.|
Futurama was industrial and stage designer Norman Bel Geddes vision of what the United States would look like in the future of 1960. His vision was conveyed in a massive, 36,000 square-foot model of a city and countryside of that distant time 21 years in the future. The model contained over half a million individually-fabricated structures, a million trees, and fifty thousand vehicles. Viewers were, in essence, flying over the landscape at a low altitude and witnessing what they might look forward to in the years ahead.
|Model city. The tall buildings are actually about four feet in height.|
|The Last Intersection|
We don't have world's fairs in this country any more. The last one was held in 1984 in New Orleans and it declared bankruptcy halfway through its six-month run. Maybe because of television and computer imagery we can no longer related to the seemingly-quaint idea of a physical model of the future. Dioramas to portray the world to come are expensive to build and go out of date quickly. Even Spaceship Earth at Epcot requires constant updating on what its vision of the future of communications looks like. But let's just imagine for a moment that we could hire someone like a Norman Bel Geddes of 2012 to build a Futurama of 2035. What would it look like? Would we see a better world ahead, as Futurama did, or would we see something much more worrisome?
I think we have become more cynical about the promise of technology. At least we no longer believe in the illusion that it can solve all our problems. More often that not, we see technology as creating as many problems as it removes. The internet and its attendant privacy issues are just the latest example of the duality of every new technology. It might be easy to fall into envying the untroubled vision of technology portrayed in the 1939 World's Fair but these people were not naive, either. They saw their world being torn apart by the beginnings of World War II. They didn't know yet about atomic bombs but they saw - correctly - a horrific conflict ahead. Yet most people interviewed at the fair were optimistic about the longer-term future of the country. The American Way promised a brighter future for themselves and their children. We might be tempted to disagree with them in our own times.
They say that hope dies last. I don't think we are anywhere near the end of hope but I do think we are facing some tremendous challenges in the coming decades and we have only just begun to see them looming ahead of us. I would suggest that we build a new Futurama that would be a marker to help us get a better fix on the future. I, for one, would even volunteer to help pay for it. And I would certainly stand in line for a few hours to see it.
Note: General Motors produced a film about Futurama, entitled "New Horizons". You can watch it on YouTube below. It runs about 23 minutes but is worth the time.