Monday, May 11, 2015

Retro-nostalgia: Yearning for a Future that Never Came

Regardless of whether my previous post was on the mark or not, there's no denying that many of the exciting things promised by classic science fiction never came to pass. We were promised electricity from nuclear power that would be too cheap to meter -- instead, we got phone calls that are too cheap to meter. We were promised household robots to do our cooking and cleaning -- instead, we got robots making cars. (It's arguable that a dishwasher is a type of household robot, but I want one with arms and legs that talks to me while it's doing dishes). And of course, we haven't colonized the solar system, discovered aliens, or built a decent death ray.

This has led to a wistful longing for a future that never arrived, something I'll call, for lack of better word, retro-nostalgia. Author Daniel Wilson wrote an entire book on the subject, called Where's my Jetpack? (Actually, working jet packs have existed since the early 1960s. They just don't work very well, especially if you get turned upside down). The Smithsonian even mounted a travelling exhibit on "Yesterday's Tomorrows":

But perhaps the most impressive example of retro-nostalgia is on display at Disney's reimagined Tomorrowland. When reality overtook the version of the future in the original Tomorrowland, Disney decided to give up on trying to portray the future. Instead, they opted to present a future that never existed -- except in the imagination of science fiction.  Nothing says "the future" quite like brushed stainless steel and rivets.


Phillip Helbig said...

I like the title of Fred Pohl's book: The Way the Future Was.

Phillip Helbig said...

Someone said that you know that you are reading old science fiction when, the farther into the future one goes, computers get larger and larger, instead of smaller and smaller.