It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

The future we used to have, part 31


The Cold War may have ended when the Berlin Wall fell, but the Orange Baboon in the White House seems set on bringing us closer to nuclear armageddon than at any time during the twentieth century. But what can you expect from a man with no morals and no brains? Once upon a time, however, the future was a bright and shining place, full of jetpacks and holidays on the Moon. Things will get better, they said; and so they have, but as William Gibson famously put it, it’s just not evenly distributed. And getting progressively unequal with each passing year as the oligarchs drive us into indentured servitude. I used to mock the cyberpunks for their simplistic corporatised futures, and I won’t say they were in any way prophetic, but sometimes the news these days does feel like it comes from one of their novels. (Now, of course, I just mock them for their misunderstanding of technology.)

To be honest, the future wasn’t evenly distributed back in those days either. I wanted this post to show how people saw their lives in their futures, but it’s a very one-sided view. The Golden Age of American Futurism was 1958 to 1963, but all the futures it imagined were 100% white. And women were usually shown in supporting roles – as wives and mothers, or computer programmers (in those days, it was considered equivalent to secretary). Not every picture below is from that Golden Age – the earliest is 1939, the latest from 1973; and there’s a Japanese piece of art and two from the USSR. For future posts, I plan to look further afield: even if the future is unevenly distributed, dreams of it should not be.

A view of the Trylon at the 1939 World’s Fair, New York

1960s “House of the Future” ad from Motorola, art by Charlie Scridde

Computopia: a 1960s Japanese vision of a future classroom by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (notice kids getting bludgeoned by robots)

Closer Than We Think: computerised home learning, from an early 1960s series by Arthur Radeburgh

The cosmonauts have landed! From a 1960s USSR vision of 2017

A nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer from the 1960s

Western Electric advert, 1960s

Socialist Space Workers, 1973


3 thoughts on “The future we used to have, part 31

  1. Ah, the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40. The last hurrah of the Art-Deco/Moderne style.
    In the late 1970s I used an NMR spectrometer very like the one in the sixth picture. Memories…..

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