Posting in Design
The future isn't what it used to be. Dreams of a utopian future have to start somewhere if our kids are to be raised with hope. That is what IBM is doing now at Disney's Epcot Center.
Discuss even the term utopia, and you're bound to run quickly into its double meaning. It means both the perfect place and what can never be.
Shows like Star Trek, which sold a future of interracial unity, science and adventure, have been replaced in the popular imagination with dystopian films like 2012, in which the world is destroyed, and The Book of Eli, which takes place after civilization has collapsed.
Even the new Star Trek movie starts with a dystopian vision (spoiler alert), a separate time line without the logical Vulcans. (Close up of image from WDWNewstoday.)
But some people at IBM have gotten tired of this down show. And I'm all for what they are trying to do. How can you recruit a new generation of engineers dedicated to a SmarterPlanet if everyone believes there is no future in it?
While previous utopian visions were of a far-off future, however, this one is designed to be down to Earth. It demonstrates current IBM solutions, the data center is a real working unit, highly visible, and excess computing power is being donated.
Disney and IBM have a long-running relationship. But in recent decades even Disney's futurism has been showing its age, evidenced by the Simpsons spoof Special Edna (Season 14, Episode 7), where people are portrayed as slaves to a defunct airline.
The future isn't what it used to be. It never is. We will not be going back to any monolith near Jupiter this year. Dreams of a utopian, rather than dystopian, future have to start somewhere, however, if our kids are to be raised with hope for their futures.
It can start today. And extend into many, many tomorrows to come. But the journey starts with imagination.
So let me finish with a modest proposal. Sponsor a contest for utopian science fiction. Stories to be graded based on writing, but also on their scientific reasonableness.
Winner gets a trip to Epcot.
Jan 29, 2010
Dbarr, congratulations on starting a paragraph describing Star Trek as "positive", finishing it with saying its moral is "there is no rest except the grave" and not contradicting yourself in between! That could be the start of a whole other writing contest...
"Wagon Train in Space"... A western... Yeah, that may well be true. Remember, though, that by and large, westerns were morality plays, loaded with stock characters and with certain formulaic standards. The western was just about done for as a genre until "Fist Full of Dollars" came along. The grit and grubbiness and moral ambiguity of this movie rebooted the entire genre for years afterward. Science fiction was in much the same situation when "Star Trek" came along. Science fiction movies were further re-ordered when "2001" hit theaters. Science fiction partisans argued about that film at length, and were quite passionate in either loving or hating it. But to return to "Star Trek" -- I wouldn't call it utopian so much as positive. It arrived on the scene during the height of the turbulent sixties, when the Vietnam War was dividing this country and so much of the social fabric had been torn apart along generational lines. The vision it painted wasn't one of a perfect society -- wouldn't that be dull? But it did paint a picture of a world where we had transcended our present troubles. It's that notion that I was alluding to previously. To sum it up: We will always have troubles, but our present troubles can be met and overcome to make way for newer and better troubles. We must always be alert, resourceful, and ready to work our way through this stuff. There is no rest except the grave.
The working concept of the show was "Wagon Train in Space." In other words, it was conceived as a western. But the setting is utopian. There are problems, but we're out in space, we can go faster than light, we have miraculous technologies, and we have a multi-racial (even multi-species) crew. Pretty utopian compared with the reality of the 1960s. But in keeping with that era, where the vision of the future was far more optimistic than the one we have now.
Dana, it's interesting that you mention "Star Trek" in your article. In the original series, for instance, the world as depicted was far from perfect. Certainly things that concern us today were to some degree dealt with, but there was still conflict (Klingons, Romulans, etc.) and personal and societal strife. In subsequent series based on the Star Trek universe, this pattern was repeated. Essentially, the things that trouble us today -- economic inequality, racism, international tensions, etc. -- had been resolved and they were now being played out in an interstellar arena. We had just leveled up, in game parlance. Since "Star Trek" never was a portrayal of a utopian society, what are we to make of it? Perhaps we ought to view it as an attempt to tell stories in a setting where the stresses that we experience now aren't present any longer, and where we can see ourselves relieved of those things that drive us as human beings apart. Human unity is a future reality; at that point, we're dealing with our differences with the other races we encounter. Are the stories we find in this larger universe repetitions of the old stories from the twentieth century, or are they new stories, with new outcomes? Can we as human beings manage new responses to new stimuli, or do we fall back on stereotypical responses we all know from our own lives? It's here where creative story-telling should explore, I think.
@Zackers: I asked that you do not marginalize the book I referenced. None-the-less you mypoically done so. Your school may not have prayers even before the Supreme Court ruling, but the vast, vast majority did. The cessastion of 40 million prayers lifted daily to God has had a devastating impact on America. There is no other explanation for what happened after 1964 to America.
We can balance it up by having another competition for people to complain about how previous overly-optimistic predictions have led to disappointment. We could call it "Where's My Sodding Jetpack?".
I like this idea. Don't use the word "utopia" though, if the title of the competition implies it's unachievable that totally undermines the vital attainability aspect. Something to contrast with "Science Fiction" might be nice, but "Science Fact" is a bit plain. "Positive Projection" is a bit new-age and lightweight. I'll give it a think. It would be even better if there were two categories, one for individuals and one for corporations, who of course would have an interest in not only outlining a better future but also how the technology they're working towards will help to achieve it. What a great way to get people believing and excited.
One movie recently had a depiction of a more perfect world. That movie is "Avatar" by James Cameron. The dystopian world is our own, projected 150 years or so into the future. The more perfect world, though not quite Utopia, is Pandora. The differences between the two worlds is plain as they come inevitably into conflict. And what is the effect of viewing the world of Pandora for some people in our world? They find that real life, the life outside the 3-D multicinema, is boring, depressing, pathetic. Instead of seeing the world of the Na'vi as something from which we might learn something, they see it as confirmation that life in this world is pointless. I would say that there's probably a small portion of these poor souls that are suicidal because of the disconnect between the world as they wish it were, and the world as they find it. What conclusion can we draw from this, about Utopia and its value as a goad to drawing us forward?
The distressing truth is remove 3 billion or so people off the face of the earth and Utopia is realised. To think we went from 2.4 billion in 1948 to 6.7 billion in 2010 is mind boggling.
Obviously the most idealistic concept of Utopia isn't acheivable, but I feel sure this is not what Mr. Blankenhorn was referring to. Star Trek (referenced in the article) is FAR from an idealistic Utopia, constantly fighting to keep peace among political influences in the federation as without. I think the "Utopia" being referred to is a culture of hope where the occupants FEEL they are in a Utopia and not actually ARE in a "Utopia". This has as much to do with mindset as it does with environment, but that mindset is portrayed in optimistic tales like those of Star Trek. When Day After Tomorrow came out I knew so many people saying "that could happen!", "Thats scary, that makes so much sense, it could happen!", as much as I enjoyed the movie, it was far from scientifically realistic... as most movies are... but why don't people come out of optimistic-of-the-future movies saying "that could happen!"? I feel an optimistic future is far more likely. Nobody wants an apocalyptic future, but so many seem to believe thats the only option. I doubt the future will ever by Utopia where everyone is happy with their environment. There will always be people that take the blessings in their life forgranted, there will always be people who feel entitled to be given more than they have. But I do believe that we will always fight for a better future and we will always reach a better future barring apathy towards the bitter few who fight against it. Telling our children tales of apocalyptic futures where people have to breath from oxygen tanks and view trees in museums are not only improbable fiction, but I believe completely unproductive. We cannot hide from reality, but we create what we focus on. When you drive you focus on the road ahead, NOT on the ditch where you don't want to be. And in this attitude I agree with Dana that holding a contest for futuristic stories that portray a future that WE WANT instead of one we don't, is a good idea and productive.
@mheartwood: Have you ever actually lived in a society like the one you described? I'm not sure if you're describing the Amish or some remote, primitive tribe in the Amazon, but I doubt many people today would choose that lifestyle. Are you going to tell everyone what will make them happy? Do you believe in free choice anymore? As idyllic as some of these societies may be, there's a reason why civilization keeps changing. Also, the primitive societies you describe were without birth control, and population growth is a major driver in societal change. Even workable condoms took 20th century technology. @LarryPTL: I doubt most public schools pre-1963 had more than the occasional public prayer. Mine didn't. If you're concerned about violence and sex in films, you should look at some of the old pre-Hayes code movies of the early '30s. In fact, read the Wikipedia page on "pre-code" Hollywood films at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Code_Hollywood . This was well before the ban on public prayer, and yet religious groups back then were just as concerned about the depravity of films as you are now.
The correlation is striking. While some may try to explain it away, it won't happen easily. In 1963 & reaffirmed in 1964, the US Supreme Court did away with prayer in public schools. The results have been charted in graphs in David Barton's book "America - to pray or not to pray" and show a clear, correlated degredation of human behavior between the years before this ruling and the years after this ruling. And before anyone denigrates or marginalizes the book or the surprising results it portrays, mind you that this book was the subject of a Congressional investigation that concluded that not all trends noted in it could be explained away as not originating from the God of Abraham. Now the children who grew up without public prayer in the classroom are providing us with your latest entertainment. 'Dark' is one way to describe the mood and the assessment of human achievements. For example, the TV series "Battlestar Galactica" made in the late 1970's showed a much more upbeat view of human morality than the remake of the series over the last five or so years. The conclusion is obvious: our belief in a utopia vs a dystopia rests strongly on the belief of the existance of an attainable utopia in the afterlife.
I'd like to suggest that "utopia" is a pipe-dream, and something not worthy of pursuing. Let me explain. Utopia conjures up an image of a perfect society, with no stressors that unbalance the status quo. At least this is the impression I get. Anyone who's been alive for any duration can see that this is not the way the world works. Nothing remains static, nothing remains fixed. Everything's in flux. Anyone who yearns for some bygone era when things were "perfect," the "good old days," is once again yearning for a snapshot of reality, not a more accurate portrayal, which would be a movie. And that doesn't even consider the shifting sand of human memory and selective forgetfulness. I for one would like to see the end of usage of the term "utopia." Come up with something that doesn't have the baggage of this fantasy, and then maybe we can get to work on making it a reality, in a fluid, constantly changing world. If present visions are too negative, then who bears responsibility? Partisans on left and right seem to have total victory as their only possible outcome -- total destruction of their opponents is the only way things can go. How did this stupid attitude take root? Deal with that issue and you'll be one step closer to proposing hopeful visions of tomorrow and the day after.
That's why I suggested this as a writing contest, to get a discussion going. I'm not trying to preach to anyone about what utopia is or isn't. I'm just saying present visions are too negative, and thus don't inspire young people, who always need inspiration.
I'm all for a writing contest to come up with utopian futures. However, my own research into sustainable societies has shown me utopias which have no advanced technologies. These societies have no war, no famine, plenty of leisure time, and are very rich culturally. These utopias didn't come out of nowhere and there are very few of them in the world. So sometimes, you need to think what the word actually means. You might end up with something completly different.