The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be
Remembering the New York World’s Fair

July 12th, 2014
by George S. Crimmin

The Unisphere in Queens, New York, symbol of the 1964 World's Fair.

The Unisphere in Queens, New York, symbol of the 1964 World’s Fair.

This year marks the golden anniversary of the opening of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, when visitors flocked to Queens, a boro of New York City, to see exhibits that included a guy flying around with his jet pack, the brand new Ford Mustang and Walt Disney’s animated figurines singing “It’s a Small World After All.” There were also computers on display performing exciting tasks.

When the fair opened, Isaac Asimov wrote a piece for the New York Times conjuring up a visit to the World’s Fair of 2014. He was remarkably accurate on some points. He foresaw Skype, although he predicted we’d be doing it with our friends on the moon colonies. He was pretty close in predicting population growth and duly dubious about robot house cleaners. He predicted we’d be going to 3-D movies but was a bit over-optimistic about how much we’d like them.

The way people see the future can often define their present. I attended high school in the 1960s. Our graduating class tried to imagine the year 2000. The conversation was all about ending social ills. The best-selling novel Looking Backward told the story of a man who fell asleep and woke up in a world where crime, unemployment and mental illness had virtually vanished, where college was free, laundry was cheap and people ate their delicious meals in communal dining rooms. It sold millions of copies and spawned a long line of novels with heroes who fell asleep and woke up at the next millennium.

At the fair in 1964, everyone was thinking about building stuff. There were underwater houses and underwater hotels. “In the ‘60s, progress always seemed to be about cars, skyscrapers and gadgets to make our life easier,” said Joseph Tirella, author  of Tomorrow Land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America.

What about our visions of the future now? Imagining things 50 years in the future, our novelists and scriptwriters generally see things getting worse: civilizations crash, zombies arrive and the environment implodes. We’ve certainly got problems, but these dire predictions seem overly negative to me. Maybe it’s because we’ve lived through decades of amazing technological revolution and been disappointed with the payoff. Who would have imagined 50 years ago that we’d get to the moon and then give up on it? In fact the US has even retired the space shuttle and has to depend on Russia to get its astronauts to and from the space station at a cost of $74 million per seat.

Microwave dinners did arrive, but like the 3-D movies, the thrill is somewhat limited. Last month the New York Times reported that Canada may have outstripped the US when it comes to middle-class wealth. The Canadians didn’t even seem all that excited. Trish Hennessy of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives said, “Beating the United States middle class was like comparing ourselves to a sinking stone.” Ouch!

So, dream you fell asleep in 2014 and woke up 50 years down the line (2064). What would you like to see? People living to be 150 years old? At present people are living longer than in 1964. The bad news, however, is that we are getting sicker. Please don’t concentrate on computers; they will take care of themselves. Also no more highways. If we’re going to talk transportation, let’s work on what they had in Star Trek.

Think positive. If you need help, hey, just move to Roatan.

 

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Remembering the New York World’s Fair

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