The future ain’t what it used to be…

My festive reading matter included a number of books on what we used to imagine the future would be like.

Principal among them was “The Wonderful Future That Never Was“, which showcases the visions of the future that Popular Mechanics Magazine published from the 1900’s to the 1960’s.

Some of the predictions are surprisingly accurate – “food cooked by radio waves!” is effectively the microwave oven (although I’m glad that no one ever followed the accompanying suggestion of microwave room heating…)

Needless to say, a lot of the ideas in the book didn’t come to pass – there’s still no flying cars and we’ve actually abandoned the idea of supersonic passenger travel, having achieved it.

But the thing that seems most alien about the book is the unfettered optimism that the writers had back then that technology would make everything better – even in the darkness of war and economic depression.

And it wasn’t just optimism – there was also a fair degree of style. As well as the Art Deco wonders of Popular Mechanics, the point is borne out by another book in the reading pile – “Vulcan Test Pilot“.

The star of the book is undoubtedly the Vulcan itself – a plane that still looks futuristic sixty years after it was designed. But one also has to be impressed by its test pilot Roly Falk, a man who did all of his test flying in a pinstriped suit.

The future that *did* happen undoubtedly has incredible technology – an iPad is, in its own way, as stylish as any flying car. But our optimism has arguably gone – for plenty of people today, their first reaction on being presented with an iPad would be to complain about the battery life…

That’s not to say that scepticism is a bad thing – the optimism of the future in the old magazines also came with conformity, with all of the men wearing hats and all of the women seemingly obsessed with domestic tasks (something illustrated in one of my favourite sci-fi short stories, William Gibson’s, “The Gernsbach Continuum”).

But, I’d still love to see a flying car…


About pointlessephemera

Blogging about the geekier end of popular culture...
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3 Responses to The future ain’t what it used to be…

  1. I’d love a flying car; I could park it on the inaccessible roof out the back.

    I’m totally converted to Kindles now, by the way (except for picture books); I’m back to a proper paper book this week and it’s so much less convenient! I can already feel librarian friends frowning at me…

  2. mrwillox says:

    I said when the iPad came out that if you think about it really is like something out of Buck Rogers, whatever you think of Apple it is a properly iconic device.

    Oh and I think I read somewhere that they were looking at reviving Concorde, not sure what the “green” credentials of such a project are so I can see it getting tripped up but it would be pretty darn cool!

  3. Pingback: Three Things February – 23rd February | Pointless Ephemera

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