Friday, September 21, 2007

Technology and Man's Future (1972)

The introduction to the book Technology and Man's Future has a tone appropriate for 1972. The words seem to offer a first glimpse into true disillusionment with early 20th century futurism. And yet, the book nurtures remnants of optimism; of hope that the future may hold some version, however imperfect, of that shiny, happy future.

Below is an excerpt from the introduction to the book.
I grew up believing in a technological future. The picture of tomorrow's world that I carried around in my head throughout childhood years corresponded, more or less, to that which one might have acquired from any number of science-fiction movies or from such monuments to technology as the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It was characterized mainly by neatness and order, miles of gleaming chrome, millions of buttons to push, and endless gadgets to do all the work. All of our "old-fashioned" ways of doing things were, I believed, to be replaced by new, modern, better ones. Automated highways would take the place of conventional roads; one nourishment pill in the morning would save us consuming three meals during the day. In retrospect, what I find to be particularly interesting in this childhood image is the fact that the technological future always seemed to be an end in itself. When adults in my life spoke of it, they implied its inevitability - with some interest and some, but not much, enthusiasm. No one seemed to care very much for the prospect, but it was "progress," and only a fool would try to resist its tide.

Similar notions were apparently the main themes of the Century of Progress International Exposition held in Chicago in 1933. In the great world's fair tradition, this extravagant celebration aimed to demonstrate what technology was capable of doing for humanity. In the process, it brought out dramatically what one author has called "technology's triumph over man." Upon entering the Hall of Science, one was confronted by a large sculptural group featuring a life-sized man and woman, their "hands outstretched as if in fear or ignorance." Between this couple stood a giant angular robot almost twice their size, bending down, with a metallic arm "thrown reassuringly around each." The visitor to the fair need not have searched far for the meaning of this image. It could be found in the Exposition motto: SCIENCE FINDS - INDUSTRY APPLIES - MAN CONFORMS.

As I grew older, I naturally began to question my childhood vision, putting aside a fascination with gadgets to ask myself what was lacking in this future. Why, despite all good intentions, did this image of the future always come out looking more like Brave New World or 1984 than Utopia? What was the meaning of "progress" in these terms, if no one ever asked whether it serves to make people happier?

See also:
Future Shock (1972)
Headlines of the Near Future (1972)
Progress to Counter Catastrophe Theory? (1975)
Going Backward into 2000 (1966)
The Population Bomb: Scenario 1 (1970)
The Population Bomb: Scenario 2 (1970)
The Population Bomb: Scenario 3 (1970)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's no market in the obsolete human, so don't expect that to happen ever.

Al Teich said...

Interesting to see something I wrote in my youthful innocence 35 years ago quoted as a historical artifact. The quote is from the original edition. The book (retitled after a few years for political correctness as "Technology and the Future")is still in print. The 11th edition will be out next year.

Matt said...

I'd love to talk with you about the book Mr. Teich. Please email me if you get this message.

-Matt Novak

matt@paleofuture.com