(the future we were
|To the right is a painting by A.C.
Radebaugh, an artist from the 1950s who made his living envisioning the
future. An exhibit of his rediscovered work is opening at the Lost
Highways art gallery in Philadelphia. Like many science fiction
writers and visionaries of the time, he pictured a future world of
flying cars, high-speed monorails, and vacations on the moon.
Today, people react to this 50s optimism in a couple different ways. Some react with a snarky superiority. "Surely, these people in the 50s were foolish to imagine a world of rocket-riding mailmen and robot maids," goes this line of thinking. Another reaction is wistfulness, or even bitterness, for the dreams that seem to have been lost. I can understand that. I was born in 1966, and I expected to be (personally) exploring other planets by now.
But there's another way to look at it. We don't have rocket mailmen, but we do have email, which gets your message around the world faster than any ICBM. We don't have robot maids, but the company I work for just introduced a robot vacuum cleaner that you can buy for $200. We don't have hotels on Mars, but we do have a space probe that will be sending us live images from its plunge into the clouds of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, less than two years from now.
And people are still working on tourist flights into space, personal flying machines, and even flying cars. This is on top of developments in biotech, personal computing, and telecommunications that even the wildest-eyed visionaries of the 50s didn't foresee. The point is not that the visionaries were exactly right, because of course they weren't -- they couldn't be -- no one could. The point is that futurists like Radebaugh gave people dreams to shoot for, and if things didn't always turn out the way they planned, they could always find new dreams.
This isn't the future we were promised. In many ways, it's better, and in others, it's stranger.