Imagination enables us to predict the future. But, our predictions are rooted in what we know today.
The future lies before us, a vast empty plain ready to fill with ideas and ideals. We are going to “reinvent” ourselves, “reimagine banking,” and “think different.”
The future will be “all new,” like the latest episode of a television show. (How can a television show be “all new”? Did they reinvent the DNA of the actors?)
“All new” is never true. Because imagination is a balance of prior experience and current hopes, dreams and fantasies for the future. Our view of the future is never completely free of contemporary views and assumptions.
Consider the 1930s comic strip, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Buck was a World War I doughboy rendered inert by mine gas. He awakes 500 years later in a world of television viewer plates, death rays and human jet packs. (Human jet packs are an undying vision of the future: Astro Jets opened as a popular Tomorrowland ride in 1956. With a simulated jet pack on your back and your legs dangling, you could rise to a bird’s eye view of Tomorrowland.)
In 2430, Buck Rogers still uses radios. The television viewer plates work like Dick Tracy’s two-way, wrist TVs and “aero planes” can be operated by remote control. However, the planes are one-seat, bi-planes right out of World War I. Buck and Wilma (Buck’s love interest) wear clothes and hairstyles that would look swell in a 1930s jazz club. Wilma is a modern soldier, but, like other women in this 25th century vision, she longs for a domestic life with husband and family. She may be able to ride a jet pack with “inertron,” but Daddy is still the boss, just as in 1930s America.
In July 1955, Walt Disney, the mouse animator turned corporate titan, launched the first Disney Tomorrowland, where scientists were “opening the doors of the Space Age… to give you an opportunity to participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future” in 1986.
“Tomorrow can be a wonderful age,” Disney said, including “the hope for a peaceful, unified world.”
However, behind the idealism of Tomorrowland lay the realism of Today Land. Restricted by a tight budget and timeline, it was largely empty of attractions during its first four years. The few attractions were sponsored by major American corporations such as Monsanto, American Motors (swallowed by Chrysler in 1987), and Dutch Boy Paints. Kaiser Aluminum opened the irresistible Hall of Aluminum Fame. Tomorrowland even had a dose of Yesterday Land: short on futuristic exhibits, Disney converted the set from the 1954 movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A year old movie based on a 19th century novel depicted the late 20th century. This exhibit continued for 11 years.
The promise of 1986 was a three-speed torque converter (automatic transmission), the bathroom of tomorrow (identical to a 1955 bathroom except for barbells to lift weights and everything painted “citrus yellow”), jet packs and Autopia, the coming car utopia of the interstate highway system. (Authorized in 1954, construction began in 1956.) Tomorrowland was mostly 1955 looking to 1957.
Imagination is future prediction, but prediction built on what we already know and experience.