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Entries in dystopia (13)

Sunday
Jun262011

Leisure in 2006 A.D. (1906)

What's the biggest problem people thought we'd be facing in the 21st century? Mid-air jetpack collisions? Disobedient robot servants? No, the greatest problem of our futuristic world was supposed to be too much leisure time.

It was believed that a push-button future of automation would bring about a world of unprecedented convenience and leisure. The question was only how to pass the time.

Many imagined a leisure-centric society driven by wholesome degeneracy, jet-setting golfers and sixteen hour work weeks. The mundane nature of such a simple push-button future would even drive people to suicide!

In reality, the amount of time spent on purely enjoyable activities hasn't really changed much in the last hundred years. But to steal a line from one W. Elias Disney, if we can dream it, we can do it! Feel free to leave your comments below about how to push ourselves into such a wondrous dystopia of automated despair.

The March 26, 1906 New Zealand Star told the story of leisure one hundred years into the future, through the lens of a more efficient and time-saving bath. Onward into our freshly scrubbed dystopia!

Probably the speediest dresser of our own day does not consume less than a quarter of an hour over his morning tub and the operation of drying himself. A hundred years hence people will be so avid of every moment of life, life will be so full of busy delight, that time-saving inventions will be at a huge premium. It is not because we shall be hurried in nerve-shattering anxiety, but because we shall value at its true worth the refining and restful influence of leisure, that we shall be impatient of the minor tasks of every day. The bath of the next century will lave the body speedily with oxgenated water, delivered with a force that will render rubbing unnecessary, and beside it will stand the drying cupboard, lined with some quickly moving arrangement of soft brushes, and fed with highly dessiccated air, from which, almost in a moment, the bather will emerge, dried, and with a skin gently stimulated and perhaps electrified, to clothe himself quickly and pass down the lift to his breakfast, which he will eat to the accompaniment of the morning's news, read out for the benefit of the family, or whispered into his ears by a talking machine.

 

Tuesday
Apr262011

Government of the Future (1981)

Children of the 1980s were presented with two possible futures for government in the book World of Tomorrow: School, Work and Play. The first scenario is a nightmarish dystopia where governments track their citizens' every move and computers are curtailing freedoms across the globe. The second possible future is a utopia nearly achieving some form of direct democracy, brought on by the home computer and videophones, which enable citizens to become highly engaged in the political process.

It would appear that those of us living in "the future" wound up with a bit of both. Governments all over the world are certainly using technology to spy on their citizens -- though I would wager that Visa, Apple and Google know more about me than the U.S. government. But the evolution of tools like Twitter and YouTube has also provided your average citizen with easier ways to politically organize and educate.

Whatever your feelings on technology's role in government, I think we can all agree on one political truism... I'm right and those other guys are idiots.

Some people fear that computers will rule our lives in the future. They believe that information on everyone will be stored in computers, and that government officials will be able to find out anything about anyone at any time. It is possible that this will happen, and that some governments will use computers to limit people's freedom. However, it is just as possible that computers will make governments more open in the future, and allow people more say in the ways they are governed.

In a future where every home has a videophone computer system, everyone could take part in government. People could talk and air their views to others on special communication channels linking every home. These people would most likely be representatives of some kind -- of a political party, a union, an industry and so on.  But when the time comes to make a decision on any issue, everyone would be able to vote by instructing their computer. A central computer would instantly announce the result.

 This kind of government by the people is a possibility that the computer will bring. It could take place on any scale -- from village councils up to world government. In fact, it is more likely to happen in small communitites, as it would be difficult to reach effective national and international decisions, if millions of people always had to be asked to approve everything. Nevertheless, the computer will enable really important decisions to be put before the people and not decided by groups or politicians.

The computer could also affect the ways in which politicians will work. They could discuss the issues that affect the people they represent over public communication networks that would replace governemtn assemblies. In this way representatives could live among their electors and get to know them and their views much better.

 

Monday
Mar012010

Disaster Response Vehicle (1960)

The September 11, 1960 edition of Arthur Radebaugh's Closer Than We Think envisioned a type of disaster response vehicle that could seemingly accomplish many of the things people still complain about whenever governments respond to crises. With a decimated infrastructure those "terra tires" (crushing cars, mind you) would certainly come in handy. It's interesting that the illustration gives no clue as to what horror these people must be running from; an uncharacteristically chilling image from pop-utopian Radebaugh.

Tomorrow's methods of coping with catastrophes will make our present-day equipment as obsolete as the horse-drawn drays that handled the San Francisco fire havoc in 1906.

New king-size disaster wagons will face up to any kind of upheaval -- atomic, atmospheric or volcanic. Their low-pressure "terra tire" doughnut wheels will permit movement across any kind of terrain, traffic or wreckage. Supplies will include hospital equipment, pharmaceuticals, blood, dehydrated food and the like.

Such wagons are now in the planning stage for military purposes. Compare also the enormous vehicles already in use as missile carriers, also those used in the mining and logging industries.

Next week: Sub Squelcher

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Wednesday
Aug062008

The Future of Futurism

A June 29, 2006 Slate piece by Reihan Salam reflects on futurism and had some fascinating insights. An excerpt appears below.

Even so, it's not fair to say that all futurism is misguided. Just most of it. In his 1976 Time essay "Is There Any Future in Futurism?" Stefan Kanfer wrote that you could divide futurists into neo-Malthusians and Cornucopians. Neo-Malthusians are convinced that the world is going to hell. Some, like The Population Bomb's Paul Ehrlich, blamed population growth; others, like the Club of Rome, blamed economic growth. Either way, the prescription remained the same: You've got to change your evil ways, Earthlings.


Is Futurism Dead? (New York Times, 1982)
Progress to Counter Catastrophe Theory? (1975)
Going Backward into 2000 (1966)
The Population Bomb: Scenario 1 (1970)
The Population Bomb: Scenario 2 (1970)
The Population Bomb: Scenario 3 (1970)

 

Monday
Jan072008

Will War Drive Civilization Underground? (1942)


The December 13, 1942 Montana Standard (Butte, MT) ran an interesting piece by Gardner Dane about the world of 1975, devastated by war, forcing people to move underground in order to survive. The original article appeared in Every Week magazine. Excerpts, as well as the article in its entirety, appear below.

Dane sets the stage with a vision of total ruin, a world obliterated by war:

It's 1975! All hell has burst loose in World War Three! The nations of this earth have lined up again on two sides. The slaughter, devastating fury, and material damage make the wars of past history seem like children's games with toy tin soldiers!

 

In an hour, gargantuan cities are blasted into nothingness. Desolated heaps of rubble and smoking, stinking debris mark the spot where a flock of towering skyscrapers lifted pointed peaks into the heavens.

Does this mark the end of a city's existence? Does it mean the Grand Climax of civilization? The ultimate Armageddon? The wiping out of a nation as one would crush a hornet's nest?

Not at all! For already the keen, dispassionate, incisive minds of scientists are fashioning the world in which many now living will be forced to exist when the next cataclysmic and catastrophic spasm of mankind occurs.


Dane then goes on to put things into the context of 1942 (World War II):

Historians, a thousand years hence, will write that after the victory of the Allied Nations near the middle of the twentieth century, there was an attempt to build a war-free world; but after a few years commercial rivalries sprang up again. Then the military leaders of the democracies, with the acquiescence of disillusioned millions, began preparing for the next cataclysmatic spasm of humanity.


He explains what the wars of 1975 or the year 2000 would look like:

There will be monstrous airplane carriers of the skies. Gargantuan dirigibles, capable of carrying a hundred fighting and bombing planes, will roam over the continents and oceans of the world. The only effective defense will be more airplanes! Yes, there will be anti-aircraft guns of power and velocity that will make today's fire power seem like toy pistols. But half a century hence giant bombers will carry cannon as powerful as today's anti-aircraft guns!


The power of the atom is eerily predicted:

What will happen in the twenty-first century we cannot tell. A century hence, man may have learned to use the unlimited and terrible power of the atom. He may be able to trap the rays of the sun and miraculously render obsolete the electric generator, the gasoline engine and the Diesel motor. Rocket ships may displace the motored airplanes as effectively and quickly as the automobile displaced the horse in the early part of the twentieth century.


Dane then explains the preparation nations will take for war:

First, when the black clouds of another war begin to gather on the horizon, nations will lay by great stores of food! Not food as we commonly think of it today, but millions upon millions of tons of dehydrated meats, fruits and vegetables!

 

These millions of tons will be stored underground at strategic and accessible points. Scientists would probably tell us today that the problem of food for an underground civilization will be the easiest problem to solve - if we get at it soon enough. The second problem will be shelter. This will be a gargantuan feat.

Deep underground, vast chambers will have to be excavated. Families can keep together in cubicles designed for the purpose. Single men will sleep in tiers in bunks 15 or 20 high; single women will sleep in similar accommodations.

All feeding will be done in central kitchens, rigidly controlled as to quality and quantity. Sanitary problems will be handled by specialists. All the accoutrements necessary for living will be moved underground. There will be hospitals and stores. Factories that produce clothes, medicines and other needs.

Naturally, in an ultimate emergency such as this, everything and every last detail will be controlled by the government. The abhorred and abhorrent dictatorships of the present time will be as nothing when nations fight for their lives in the next war.


The author (naturally) concludes on a pessimistic note:

Prophecy is always dangerous!

 

But if the past history and total experience of the human race has any value as a criterion of the future, within a half century there will be another war.

Each war, we like to say, grows more horrible! But each war brings its defenses against the diabolical, horrible offensive weapons devised by the race of man.

It seems certain that when the dogs of war are unleashed again on some future, unhappy date, civilization will have to move underground for the duration.


 

See also:
Our Friend the Atom (Book, 1956)
After the War (1944)
Memory of 'Tomorrow' (New York Times, 1941)
Gigantic Robots to Fight Our Battles (Fresno Bee, 1934)
Pictures Stately Edifices (1923)
Looks for Era of Brotherhood (1923)
Poison War (1981)
Word Origins: Imagineering, continued (1942)
Nazi Paleo-Futurism (1941)

Thursday
Sep272007

The Disease of the Future (1970)

The August 3, 1970 issue of Time magazine profiles Alvin Toffler and his book Future Shock. An excerpt appears below but you can read the entire article here.

What brings on future shock, according to Toffler, is a rate of social change that has become so fast as to be impossible for most human beings to assimilate. "The malaise, mass neurosis, irrationality and free-floating violence already apparent in contemporary life are merely a foretaste of what may lie ahead unless we come to understand and treat this disease," Toffler argues. "Future shock arises from the superimposition of a new culture on an old one. It is culture shock in one's own society. But its impact is far worse. For most travelers have the comforting knowledge that the culture they left behind will be there to return to. The victim of future shock does not."


See also:
Future Shock (1972)
Future Shock - Electrical Stimulation (1972)
Future Shock - Skin Color (1972)
Future Shock - Babytorium (1972)
Headlines of the Near Future (1972)
Progress to Counter Catastrophe Theory? (1975)
Going Backward into 2000 (1966)
Technology and Man's Future (1972)

 

Thursday
Sep202007

Technology and Man's Future (1972)

The introduction to the book Technology and Man's Future has a tone appropriate for 1972. The words seem to offer a first glimpse into true disillusionment with early 20th century futurism. And yet, the book nurtures remnants of optimism; of hope that the future may hold some version, however imperfect, of that shiny, happy future.

Below is an excerpt from the introduction to the book.

I grew up believing in a technological future. The picture of tomorrow's world that I carried around in my head throughout childhood years corresponded, more or less, to that which one might have acquired from any number of science-fiction movies or from such monuments to technology as the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It was characterized mainly by neatness and order, miles of gleaming chrome, millions of buttons to push, and endless gadgets to do all the work. All of our "old-fashioned" ways of doing things were, I believed, to be replaced by new, modern, better ones. Automated highways would take the place of conventional roads; one nourishment pill in the morning would save us consuming three meals during the day. In retrospect, what I find to be particularly interesting in this childhood image is the fact that the technological future always seemed to be an end in itself. When adults in my life spoke of it, they implied its inevitability - with some interest and some, but not much, enthusiasm. No one seemed to care very much for the prospect, but it was "progress," and only a fool would try to resist its tide.

 

Similar notions were apparently the main themes of the Century of Progress International Exposition held in Chicago in 1933. In the great world's fair tradition, this extravagant celebration aimed to demonstrate what technology was capable of doing for humanity. In the process, it brought out dramatically what one author has called "technology's triumph over man." Upon entering the Hall of Science, one was confronted by a large sculptural group featuring a life-sized man and woman, their "hands outstretched as if in fear or ignorance." Between this couple stood a giant angular robot almost twice their size, bending down, with a metallic arm "thrown reassuringly around each." The visitor to the fair need not have searched far for the meaning of this image. It could be found in the Exposition motto: SCIENCE FINDS - INDUSTRY APPLIES - MAN CONFORMS.

As I grew older, I naturally began to question my childhood vision, putting aside a fascination with gadgets to ask myself what was lacking in this future. Why, despite all good intentions, did this image of the future always come out looking more like Brave New World or 1984 than Utopia? What was the meaning of "progress" in these terms, if no one ever asked whether it serves to make people happier?


See also:
Future Shock (1972)
Headlines of the Near Future (1972)
Progress to Counter Catastrophe Theory? (1975)
Going Backward into 2000 (1966)
The Population Bomb: Scenario 1 (1970)
The Population Bomb: Scenario 2 (1970)
The Population Bomb: Scenario 3 (1970)