What happened to the future?

I saw these on the c77 homepage the yesterday:

and aside from them being hilarious they reminded me of a conversation I had the other day with some of friends at brunch. What happened to the future? There was a time when companies invested in concepts like the above to get the general public excited about the possibilities of the future. People where looking for change. Is the climate of the general public different now?

It seems like this period of thought started with the industrial revolution and lasted until about the 60’s. I wasn’t alive for any of that so maybe it is just looking back through rose colored glasses?

Another thought was that with the rate of progression today, these things become reality much faster so companies are focused on bringing things to production (like Lexuses that park themselves) rather than making big promo pieces?

What are your thoughts on it?

I think it’s complex, to start, there was huge optimism in the 50’s and 60’s that technology alone would solve all mankind’s problems - that’s long gone now. companies were more vested in Pure Research then (Bell Labs, Xerox Park…) and could do some speculation, now Wall Street puts an end to anything not driving next quarters’ dividend.

quick zap before logging off :

the irony of technology has really complicated things more than ever. Just look at diseases alone: when we sort out one problem, there are new ones popping out from mutation. Young children taking in anti-biotics which is uncommon in my days. I think we live healthier than the younger generation.

Well, Yo, I was born in 1951, so I was alive at the end of that period. I remember that everything seemed possible, and I was excited at the prospect of being able to use this magic.

Sadly, it never materialized (as advertised) and I was, and still am, diappointed (still no “flying car”). I’ve become cynical, and skeptical, of “hype” in general, regardless of the industry it is associated with; (automobiles (how many different models do we need), medicines & medical technology (that few of us can afford), communications/electronic devices (how is literacy affected by them), nutrition (is our food still good for us), etc.) And I won’t even go into what government(s) is/are supposed to do for us…

Promise, promises, promises … broken (or at least unfulfilled). Having been exposed to this since birth, consumers (especially those under the age of 40) are tired of it. Or maybe they don’t even hear it; it’s simply background noise.

As we age we become aware of the huge difference in what we need, and what we want. I still want my flying car, but I don’t need it.

What happened to the future? It moved to Asia.

Europe had its day hundreds of years ago - the renaissance, the enlightenment - then became less vibrant, less optimistic, and begrudgingly and lethargically settled for mediocre reality and cynicism. Strangely, the more static, thoughtful, lost, and doubtful Europe became on the inside, the more arrogant (the baseless willing of confidence, belief in superiorority despite facts) and demanding (entitlement attitude) it became on the outside.

While this was happening, the U.S. was building the “American century.” Energetic, self-reliant, overly optimistic, learning from Europe’s successes and mistakes perhaps but also repeating some (so, not completely self-reliant, I suppose), real confidence (self-assured from witnessing and participating in “progress”), and it must be said, a seemingly necessary naivete.

But doesn’t it seem that the U.S. has been following in old Europe’s footsteps the last few decades? Empire extension beyond sustainablility. Settling for reality and mediocrity. (while simultaneously fearing reality and damning reality - but rarely offering the bold, difficult, or even naive solutions to this reality, so, “settling”) Rampant cynicism. (seemingly the only “intelligent” form of humour allowable now in the West!) Less optimistic. More static. (“stay the course”) More navel gazing. (more graduate degrees in “criticism,” anyone?!) Lost. (coming to a TV near you!) Internally doubtful. (witness the 2 political parties as they struggle with defining who they are and what they stand for and if they are really any different - and the 17 presidential candidates asking to be followed) Arrogance? - check. Growing entitlement attitude - check.

So begins the “Asian century.” With all its vibrance, optimism, thoughtlessness (often too busy to master-plan, consider consequences, or navel gaze!), and plenty of youthful naivete. Much has also been said about Asia’s ability to “learn” from others - this is usually put in a negative light, but it is also a positive in terms of accelerating towards the future, as long as a more pioneering spirit evolves. Cynical humour? - almost unheard of in Asia! Optimistic? - there are actually rankings of optimism every year done as a part of international competitiveness reports - I recall Vietnam and other developing Asian nations being in the top half of the list.

And anyone who has been in an Asian city recently will verify there is nothing static about them! If you are looking for the modern day equivalent of those “future scenario” videos, take a look at Shanghai and its fully operational mag-lev train, Beijing’s preparation for the Olympics, Pusan’s proposed skyscraper (and Kuala Lumpur and Taipei before that), Singapore’s land reclamation, Singapore and Macau’s casino complex construction, Roppongi Hills or Odaiba (a story of the persistence of the future in this region), Hong Kong’s harbour/waterfront plans, and if we can include Dubai/U.A.E. in this Asian conversation, then I think there can be no question as to where the “future” went! And I’m just naming the “fun” stuff - the speedy infrastructure development to support such unprecedented growth rates is probably the real wonder.

Not to paint an idealistic or naive picture. Asia does not speak with one voice, because it is not one place or one people. Arrogance is creeping in some quarters. One need only look at productivity or efficiency or sales or top global brands (or clean air!) to turn this whole scenario on its head - pockets of Europe and all North America still appear comfortably dominant. But the future economic trend - and definitely the human feeling or attitude - shows the tide is turning. And a word of caution to any doubters: I am certain that plenty of Europeans viewed the U.S. during the previous century and doubted that such a fractured culture of ignorant and uncultured cowboys would rise to champion and embody the future. (Go see Gangs of New York again to see the not-so-glorious or -obvious beginnings of a world beater)

Finally, some Asian cultures may be too “pragmatic” to offer a grand vision of the future and preview their scenario with a Hollywood video - but it could be argued they are delivering their vision piece by piece in their actual actions everyday now.

I think that makes a lot of sense LMO.

I’d have to agree with that. Everyplace I’ve gone there is is obvious. Not just the usual suspects of Tokyo, Hong Kong and crew, but Shenzhen, China, Busan, Korea,… the future feels like it is right around the corner. Going there I’ve often wondered how European business travelers felt coming to the US at the turn of the last century. The contrasts are almost too much to bear sometimes, but it is exciting.

So, is it possible to bring that magic back, or once hope for tomorrow is gone, is it gone for good? Maybe once the average quality of life gets to a point where most have what they need, there is no evident reason to strive for tomorrow because you can relish today and just chill on the couch?

so - does this mean we should be expecting those sci-fi diorama’s of life in the future from somebody in asia?

I don’t think the future has moved anywhere. Futurism was a widespread trend in the 20th century in the US and Europe (as well as Japan). I think the expression of it has changed according to the mood of the country. Today, Americans are too savvy about commercials to buy into any corny “disney” film of the future. However, science fiction is still very popular. The big 3 still develop pointless concept cars. Lastly, we are still gullable enough to fall into trends of the future (dot com bubble, Enron, Blackberry phones, hybrid cars, etc).

Maybe western just fall for less of the futurist BS…which might be a good thing!

Mr-914: Spoken like a true cynic. A realistic, thoughtful, intelligent, critical, pessimistic, doubting, Western…cynic.

no_spec: Check here for your videos and other “life in the future” stuff from Asia:

The World, Dubai

One-North, Singapore

Dongtan Eco-City, China (no video)

Proton City, Malaysia (website)

The Linear, Singapore (search for animated video)

(go to “the linear details” then “watch the commercial”)

Also, I have seen a very sci-fi promotional video for the planned “Autopolis” complex in Abu Dhabi and a simple one of a Singapore casino project bidder, but can’t find them online yet.

tixie raises a good point. The developing nations are where the action is. They’re dreaming up new cities from scratch. When was the last time someone did that in a developed nation?

Hey, have you seen those commercials by a European Bank I think, in which an office during the day turns into a boutique shop in the early evening, and then a restaurant later on, and then into a night club… who did those? When I saw that I thught, wow, I haven’t seen something like that in a while, not sure what it had to do with Banking, but it was a cool concept.

for an optimistic future, the people and the government must share a common mindset to grow and adapt to the changing world in a daring way.

Asian borses are rising at a record high.
Economy and financial institutions have performed way better than the Asian Economic Crisis
10 years back. New luxury private apartments and houses are on the rise in many asian countries. Property prices are rising
at a faster rate and the need for better lifestyles are rising. But the thing is the world is suffering the same environmental crisis.
So we need to sort the weather out before we are so bothered about the economy. Look at the architecture, the arts and the science. All taken shape in quantum leap and the rate is astonishing. This often makes me think if there would a new cold war coming up.

certainly asia has the optimism, is it comparable to '50s America?
(I’d argue it’s less naive…but …there’s a difference between building playgrounds/playthings for the uber-rich and a utopian futurism. (look at 1920’s america))

could you plot an economies’ booms and busts by the utopian or dystopian nature of it’s culture? sorta reverse engineering?

i looove all that midcentury/60’s futurism design stuff. imho, more than a case of post-war optimism and “to the moon” fueled daydreaming, but really a global social awareness of the potential of design in sculpting the living landcape and daily life.

so much of course has changed since the 50/60s but mostly i would target the compression of consumerist cycles as the downfall of this cycling. that and the faster/cheaper school of design thought.

its almost as all the rushing to the future has caused a reduction of attention span and patience in the mass consumer mind to get there. by company, there is likely much more "concept " work going on now that in the past. pretty much every electronics/consumer goods company now has some design/concept competition to explore new ideas (samsung/LG/MS/etc.)…its just that there are so many products that come between the “now” and “then” when concepts become reality. in the old days when it took years instead of month to go to production for a new car, for example, the concept just seemed further ahead until when the new technology would actually arrive…

that being said, there is still so much good future thinking going on. check out any issue of suface* magazine or many student portfolios.

still… id love to live in the world of 60s eames, buckminster fuller and IBM “oven-o-phone” reality! :slight_smile:

for more on some of the tangible aspects of this reality i also highly recommend checking out the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. Almost 100% still valid even though written almost 40 years ago. great futurism topics (and realistiC analysis)
on everything from housing to business.


i also highly recommend checking out the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler

It’s that shock effect that we’re missing today. Back then in the dreamy 50’s and 60’s those ‘crazy’ futuristic ideas were so far-fetched from the low-tech reality it had a sort of shock to the senses, or ‘wow factor’ in marketing-speak. We are now bombarded by so many new inventions to improve our near perfectly accessorized lives that we have become jaded and desensitized to them.

We industrial designers are 75% geek, so we still revel in the latest gizmos, but the average consumer has already given up trying to keep up with what’s new, let alone what’s coming.

I agree with tixe and cheerygirl that Asia is where the a lot of the bigger futuristic ideas are taking place, but there’s a different, less romantic feel to it than what was perceived in the 50’s & 60’s America. The starry-eyed future gazing that Yo started this thread describing won’t ever return in our culture, we’re already there.

It went the same way as belief in perpetual economic growth.

I would argue that Blade Runner, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson are examples of what happened to Futurism. Futurism became a bleak, over-amped collapse upon itself. As much as I LUV cyber-punk, its dark. It is not what I would describe as optimistic.

We’re surrounded 24/7 by gloom and doom. Global Warming, constant bombardment of the next evil looming around the corner. We’ve cornered ourselves. We’ve made ourselves a paranoid, jaded group…and I find that very depressing.

Neo-Futurism is amongst us. It simply doesn’t have optimism. Even the hot threads here on the Core Boards at the moment are about preventing doom. The belief that we’ve gone and screwed things up.

This is a great point.

There’s also something to be said about the concept of ‘entropy.’ Things don’t self-assemble. Things don’t get better by themselves. Things naturally fall apart, break down, decay. Our lives will eventually end. The Earth will eventually be destroyed. These are pretty depressing facts.

And so we have the ‘extropians’ who believe in extropy–essentially the opposite of entropy. Where as ‘transhumans’ we control our own destiny, ultimately obsoleting even the concept of ‘death’ through technology. As for the Earth being destroyed, that’s what space travel is for.

What ever happened to space travel anyway?? Have we just temporarily given up on that dream? Is this NASA’s fault?

Actually, I think space exploration is heating up: News: Breaking stories & updates - The Telegraph

Space travel got prohibitively expensive. That’s why the Chinese are sending people into space now;)

cg: I heard a speech by Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedy’s singer) a while ago. He was talking about how more and more kids are growing up as BS detectors. With thousands of advertisements flying at us everyday, all claiming to be “the future of…”, I think it was only a matter of time until most westerners started assuming anything “from the future” was BS.

I’m surprised you bring up the concept that everything in nature falls apart. Lao Tzu taught us that nature grows and dies, it’s a cycle. I think that cycle can be expanded to a social level as well. The optimism of mid-century futurism came after a period of considerable gloom (anarchist threat, communist threat, two world wars). Perhaps today we are living through a similar period (muslim extremists, fundamentalism, oil wars). Perhaps in 20 years our children will be designing EPCOT for the 21st century?