The raygun Gothic future which never came still exists for me
August 16, 2014 3:03 PM   Subscribe

But in addition to our retreat into wishfulness, something else was brewing: a sense that the past was not only better than the present, but that the past’s predictions for the future were also better than what had actually become the present. No longer content to live in (or through) our memories of the past, we also yearned to live in the past’s vision of the future. We were nostalgic for yesterday’s prognostications: You could say that we succumbed to prognostalgia. Living with our backs to the future, on the cultural fixation with past dreams of the future, on the 50th anniversary of Isaac Asimov's write-up on the 1964 World's Fair, which is still being reviewing to track Asimov's hits and misses [via mefi projects]

Links to items or topics covered in The Future Sure Looks Better From the Past, ericbop's first piece published in the New York Times: World's Fairs and/or Expos, previously: If you were wondering about the whole World's Fair/Expo scene, Here's the history of the events on Wikipedia, and the annotated list of world expositions.
posted by filthy light thief (15 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
The 1964 World's Fair is my earliest memory. I was two years old. I remember pushing my stroller accompanied by my mom and grandmother, and seeing the Borden "Elsie the Cow" exhibit.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:52 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Loved this graphic novel. The title says it all: Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?
posted by Atelerix at 5:55 PM on August 16, 2014

Oh yeah, the good old days of science fiction. back when the world of the future was all white. Oddly enough, I don't miss it at all.
posted by happyroach at 6:35 PM on August 16, 2014

Also, the '60s at 50 blog (previously here) last week posted a collection of 1964 predictions that were... less than perfect.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:05 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fair enough, happyroach.

Let's all hope WE ALL have reason to have futures as hopeful as some of our grandparents had, back a couple of decades.

How do ALL of us do that?
posted by notyou at 9:44 PM on August 16, 2014

A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
We'll be eternally free yes and eternally young.

I was a toddler during the International Geophysical Year (IGY). And, despite all that I have seen in my life, I still have hope for the future.
posted by SPrintF at 10:11 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I hope this is read by the MeFite who comments, "Where's my flying car? They promised me a flying car."
posted by Cranberry at 11:49 PM on August 16, 2014

something something back to the future flying cars, as per typical response every time that link gets posted.
posted by emptythought at 2:02 AM on August 17, 2014

Annual rejoinder: Oh yes they did promise me my flying car and I'm not 50 yet albeit a Sixties babe
posted by infini at 2:07 AM on August 17, 2014

I think you would have a hard time finding facts showing that we are worse off now than we were fifty years ago. At the same time, it is very easy to find people who think that things are getting worse and have been getting worse for a long time, so there is this weird situation where people believe that everything is going to hell in a handbasket and at the same time our lives are much better overall.

Sure we have problems, but I think in general things are moving in the right direction, and although I do believe we are screwed when it comes to climate change, I am confident that it is something that can be overcome. So yeah, I am positive about the future. Heck, I am positive about now, which as far as I can tell is the future. I mean we take things for granted today that are absolutely mind blowing.

Oh, and I am also positive about flying cars. Once Google or whoever gets the self driving cars all ironed out, the flying cars should be arriving soon after.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:58 AM on August 17, 2014

I am 28 years old and I was quite explicitly promised a free-floating space colony by 2015. (It rotated to create artificial gravity like Babylon 5!) It was in this weird video they made us watch in sixth grade, that I now suspect was less a curriculum thing and more about that particular teacher being kind of crazy.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 6:37 AM on August 17, 2014

I was pretty impressed by Asimov's article. The only big misses were atomic power and moon colonies, and these didn't materialize more because of choices we made than because of limits of the technology.

"Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence."

" The 2014 fair will feature an Algae Bar at which "mock-turkey" and "pseudosteak" will be served. It won't be bad at all (if you can dig up those premium prices), but there will be considerable psychological resistance to such an innovation. "

and so on.

Hovercraft, I suspect, never caught on, because they were always full of eels.
posted by mr vino at 6:51 AM on August 17, 2014

There has not been a thermonuclear war! Everything else is kinda nitpicking. Thank you big model railroader up in the sky.
posted by bukvich at 7:00 AM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you would have a hard time finding facts showing that we are worse off now than we were fifty years ago.

It is of course trivially easy to think of aspects of the state of the world that are worse now than fifty years ago. It's impractical to weigh them up against all the things that have got better since then and assign some kind of score. We've driven many thousands of animal species to extinction, and we've invented the Internet; I can't make any quantitative comparison of just those two larger facts out of the thousands one might think of.

One thing's for sure though, optimists and pessimists can agree, we're 50 years closer to the end of the blow-off top in human population that really got going in the 20th century. In fact there was a bit of an inflection point with the baby boom just prior to 50 years ago, which no doubt has something to do with the sort of optimistic future they had back then. Human civilization had been expanding for ten thousand years or more, but now it was *really* getting going. At the rate it was going of course it didn't take more than a decade or two for everyone to start looking ahead, as people periodically do, and seeing that the end couldn't be that far off, with a bit more mathematical certainty than past prognosticators had to go on.

By now it's pretty certain that the human population will be declining within a few generations, either because we all stop making so many babies like the U.N. hopes, or else because we fail to do so in time. This is really going to be unprecedented in recorded history. Sure there have been ups and downs before on occasion, but never a long-term declining trend, not for many thousands of years. People might have trouble getting used to it. Someone recently linked to a commentary on world population growth that among other amusing things contains this bit of deep analysis: "When your population is shrinking, that's bad for several reasons. First, it means your population is not growing, which you really need it to be in order to sustain a healthily growing economy." It went unchallenged even on metafilter. The future isn't going to be so bright until that attitude is eradicated.
posted by sfenders at 3:53 PM on August 17, 2014

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