Going On The Account: They Don’t Make the Future Like They Used To

The video above  was a capture of the experience of taking the Futurama ride (no, not that one..) at the General Motors Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair out in Flushing.

Where to begin…

There is a certain gee-wiz-gun-ho jingoism that strikes early 21st Century as odd as you watch this car company show you man’s expansion out to the moon, under the sea, through the rain forests and to the far-flung suburbs, all of this two years after Silent Spring was first published.  (And yes, they do say “man” throughout, as this takes place about a year after The Feminine Mystique hit the book stores…)  The idea of putting up finished sections of a road in the Amazon in a day and having underwater hotels discussed in the same breath as “the rich oil deposits of the continental shelves” (which seems ironic considering how some hotels got along with one offshore oil platform…) strikes us here in that future as odd.  It probably hits the GM board as “walk of shame” worthy, too considering what their current environmental outreach efforts look like now…

When you get beyond all that, there’s the old difference between how we used to look at the future then and now.  I’ve heard others talk about a “hopeful” view versus a “fearful” view, but I’m not sure that’s the proper distinction; it’s a lot easier to be “hopeful” than you might imagine, to simply believe that we will have our better natures assert themselves for a number of valid reasons, like self-preservation and being too damn lazy to not want to set us up on a cushy autopilot.  You believe that we all want to live and that we not have to get off our asses too often, then we will have our personal robots and flying cars; those drives got us iPads, after all…


Rather, the better way to look at it might be “certain” versus “ambivalent” views of future.  With a “certain” view, you can state that x+y=z, and that you just know things are going this way because it all makes sense from where you are.  Among the “ambivalent” group, you end up having to state IF_x_=_y_THEN_z_ELSE_RANDBETWEEN_(a,z), because there’s too much to consider, and among the wisest of us no willingness to state that absolutely everything has been considered.  Thus, it becomes easy to confuse a pessimist’s predictions with an ambivalent one, in that in both cases it’s too dark for the seer to make out the road ahead…


Which makes for a handier way to approach the GM show at the World’s Fair, and by extensions most World’s Fair presentations:  When you think you know what’s coming, maybe have a strong belief in what you think is coming,* then you stand out front and trumpet your vision with a smile.  When you have a few ideas that you think may be valid, you do something a little less ostentatious, like say upload a chapter a week with a blog to support it…



Now, before anyone assumes I’m trying to pass off “certain” as shorthand for “hopeful” and just saying that all “certain” assumptions about the future are thereby going to be wrong…


Y’know, for a bunch of corporate outreach spots on TV in1993, their percentage for successfully predicting the future is pretty damn high by now…





* I didn’t say the obvious, “what you’d like others to believe is coming,” because aside from being an entirely off-topic digression and the views of  a cynical SOB (which I tend to be guilty of), it may not be entirely at play here.  For all we know, the folks at GM putting Futurama together might have believed something like what they were showing us was likely, and that it was an inevitability that they hoped the company might get a piece of.  Not all marketing creates demand for products; sometimes it’s an appeal to have the consumer consider them when the time comes, a more, “me too please,” kind of appeal.  Much like the AT&T folks, who predicted a lot but didn’t get much of the branding recognition they thought would come their way; the personal assistant in those spots is a lot like Siri, who is not considered an AT&T product…


1 Comment

Filed under Fiction

One response to “Going On The Account: They Don’t Make the Future Like They Used To

  1. I’m kind of glad the limitations of man (and woman) did not make this future a reality – at least, not yet. Tearing down the rain forests and pilfering the sea would have left us with very little green spaces, building up cities of concrete and plexiglass on land and in the oceans. We’d have less oxygen from plants and trees, less pollution-eating sea creatures, etc. GM’s idea of tomorrow is certainly not MY hope for the future!

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