Vintage futures

"Neo Seoul" concept art depicting a futuristic future.

Flying cars. Virtual reality. Robots. Looking at how those in the previous century imagined the future to be, it can be disappointing to compare it to what actually came to be. At worst, like with flying cars, we never got what we were promised. At best, these imagined tools and conveniences were made into reality, but in a less exciting form than expected (the closest thing we have to Rosie from "The Jetsons" are... Roombas?).

When watching old takes on the future, it can almost seem more retro than futuristic. When people made works of art about it, they rarely ever came up with anything that was too original. Everything that they created for their future was just an enhancement of their present. The flying cars that the 1950s envisioned in old comic books and movies just look like old cars that can defy gravity. The instant messaging we see in "Back to the Future Part II" is really just faxing with cooler fax machines. There’s more old to it than new.

It’s easy to ignore that aspect of older fiction, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. The things that were supposed to last for generations, whether it be a car’s design or faxing, eventually faded into the past. It tells a younger viewer, like me, a great deal about past generations and the things they placed value in. To them, these of trends and technologies were supposed to last. A collective faith was put into that idea. When they ended up being forgotten or discarded, an entire view of the world was discarded with it. For example, the reason so many depictions of the future still have cars is probably because we still use cars in our day to day lives. Most people can’t really imagine what life would be like without them. If, one day, they were to be replaced by something else, our whole view of the world would subtly change with it. Getting a driver’s license would no longer be seen as a sign of growing up if there were no licenses to earn. Flying cars would seem just as weirdly out of place as futuristic malt shops look to us today. The world may keep changing, but its hard for most of us to imagine it changing into an evolved version of a life that we already know instead of the new ideas and customs that it will probably be.

So, do these alternate versions of our present have any value in the actual present? It depends on how much value you’re willing to give it. It requires thinking really deeply about why so many people wanted their future to look the way it did. What kind of hopes and aspirations did people have for society when they imagined their future? Is there a place for those in our modern day?

The general view of the future most people seem to have is much brighter and colorful than the one we live in today. Does that mean we all long for a more colorful world or is it just a visual way of letting us know that the utopia we hope for has arrived? All of those questions are admittedly either very abstract or loaded, but I still think there’s a value in asking them. Most of the things from those old movies/shows/etc. that actually became a part of the real future were directly inspired by those old stories. It’s not some writer that determines what kind of life we are all collectively going to live. We do. So, if there’s anything we can do to make that come true, we’re the ones who have to do it.

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