There is a pervasive sense that we are at the threshold of an electronic revolution that will transform almost everything that we do. Are there historical precedents for this kind of sweeping technological change? Have we felt like this before? This series explores the "brave new worlds" of the twentieth century as depicted in world's fairs, science fiction writing, industrial film, scholarly debate, engineer's blueprints, and everyday pop culture. How have we imagined the future in the past? Do the technological dreams and nightmares of former decades resemble ours today? The series looks back at looking forward, engaging both research scientists and cultural thinkers alike in questions about the nature of futuristic prediction.
(72k) February 8
Archaeologist of industrial and educational film Rick Prelinger conducted an archival excavation back to the homes of the 1940s and '50s, when streamlined toasters, whirring blenders, and domestic robots were changing the nature of housework. Films and excerpts included Leave It to Roll-oh (1940); To New Horizons (shown at the 1939-40 World's Fair); Looking Ahead Through Plexiglas (1946); and Design for Dreaming (1956).
(131k) February 11
Envisioning a Technological Future at World's Fairs
R. Anthony Munn, historian of technology Joseph Corn, and writer/historian Gray Brechin presented a day of slides and lectures of the strange futures predicted at various expositions and World's Fairs. Included were the the San Francisco Panama Pacific International World's Fair of 1915; the 1939 New York World's Fair; the San Francisco Golden Gate Exposition during the same year; and the World's Fair of 1964. In addition to the slides and lectures the film The World of Tomorrow was screened.
How do we define progress? Do we really like voice-mail? And who were the Luddites anyway- backwards thinking monkey-wrenchers or thoughtful dissenters? A panel made up of historian of technics Iain Boal; writer Chris Carlsson; and research artist Natalie Jeremijenko looked at how multimedia serves our needs and how we decide what is useful about it.
(99k) February 22
The Corporate Imagination
Guest curator Natalie Jeremijenko screened a series of corporate visions of the future. Made between 1985 and 1993, these videos-produced by companies such as Apple Computer, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, AT&T, and LSI Logic-are important documents contributing to the shape of both industry and public expectation of an information based future. The screenings were followed by a panel discussion with writer Bruce Sterling; industrial video producers Bob Glass and Dan Udell; anthropologist of technology Michael Fortune; anthropologist of technical systems Lucy Suchman; and linguist Geoff Nunberg.
(149k) March 1
From space colonies to Epcot Center to Biosphere II, the idea of abandoning earth and engineering human colonies elsewhere has been part of the modern technological imagination. Historian of technology Michael Smith and documentary filmmaker Fred Johnson discussed these utopian visions. Phil Patiris' Future Shack and excerpts from Sue Claytons' Japan Dreaming were also screened.
The Virtual Duck and the Endangered Nightingale
Theodore Roszak, author of The Making of a Counter Culture; The Voice of the Earth; and the recently published The Cult of Information, presented a slide lecture on the computer's eighteenth century origins. Roszack located in time such ideas as "virtual reality" and "artificial intelligence" in automatons-mechanistic models for duplicating human thinking.
The Future of Nature
Historian of science and "cultural meteorologist" Andrew Ross, author of Strange Weather and the newly published Chicago Ganster Theory of the Life, wrapped up the History of the Future series with a discussion of the "future of nature." Ross explored new developments in technoscience and the greening of the military.
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