Nautilus

Why Futurism Has a Cultural Blindspot

In early 1999, during the halftime of a University of Washington basketball game, a time capsule from 1927 was opened. Among the contents of this portal to the past were some yellowing newspapers, a Mercury dime, a student handbook, and a building permit. The crowd promptly erupted into boos. One student declared the items “dumb.”

Such disappointment in time capsules seems to run endemic, suggests William E. Jarvis in his book Time Capsules: A Cultural History. A headline from The Onion, he notes, sums it up: “Newly unearthed time capsule just full of useless old crap.” Time capsules, after all, exude a kind of pathos: They show us that the future was not quite as advanced as we thought it would be, nor did it come as quickly. The past, meanwhile, turns out to not be as radically distinct as we thought.

In his book Predicting the Future, Nicholas Rescher writes that “we incline to view the future through a telescope, as it were, thereby magnifying and bringing nearer what we can manage to see.” So too do we view the past through the other end of the telescope, making things look farther away than they actually were, or losing sight of some things altogether.

These observations apply neatly to technology. We don’t have the personal flying cars we predicted we would. Coal, notes the historian David Edgerton in his book , was a bigger source of power at the dawn of the 21st century than in sooty 1900; steam was

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

Related Interests

More from Nautilus

Nautilus3 min read
Are We Flushing Our Resistance to Antibiotics Down the Drain?: Taking account of the drug-resistant germs turning up in rivers and soils.
You may think the key to beating antibiotic resistance is for doctors to prescribe less and scientists to find new drug candidates. But the fundamental solutions may lie far from medicine. They may lie in managing our rivers and soils. Scientists who
Nautilus5 min readSelf-Improvement
The Simple Dutch Cure for Stress
Recently I was in San Francisco, a city known for its tech companies, steep hills, and fierce winds. Each day I’d run around the neighborhood and up through the park, ending with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Back in my AirBnB, I’d fe
Nautilus7 min read
Where to See the Real Living Dead
Talk of “Mother Trees,” from a scientist studying plant life, can sound fanciful, like something out of a fairy tale. Suzanne Simard is here to tell you that it’s not. For the past two decades, Simard, a professor in the Department of Forest & Conser