Friday, October 29, 2010

The world of tomorrow and post futurism

I was surfing the web on the weekend and accidently I came across some info and videos that filled an important gap in my understanding of a book that was meaningful in my childhood.

When I was in primary (elementary) school I came across a book called "The World of Tomorrow" and I was instantly hooked on understanding technology and increasingly the way it develops or doesn't. The book had great glossy photos of amazing looking vehicles. My older brother had railway sets and the photos looked liked they were based on a model but apart from the attribution to General Motors in the notes section there was no commentary on the photos themselves.

The book was interesting because it didn't present possibilities of the future it presented one version as a technological forecast. Although, the author missed the mark with various technologies he was quite accurate with an number of predictions to do with communications and electronics. The biggest failure of the book was that there was no role for societial / demongraphics shifts influencing the use of technologies. Today, we understand much better, but still to little, about how to understand the future. Thus one of my hobbies is collecting and reading old books that make technological predictions.

Anyway, on the weekend I discovered the photos come from the General Motors exhibit at the 1964 World Fair (New York), which they called Futurama II. There are some great videos on the web which give you the experience of their display.

Futurama 1, 1939 World Fair.

Futurama 2, 1964 World Fair.

Assembling Futurama 2

While, obviously such work ends up being being as much works of fiction as prediction they interset on how we understand innovation and the systems of institutions that turn them into reality. More importantly, we can learn from such work that there still exists a blurry space between traditional innovation systems studies (focussed on economies) and science and technology studies with its interest in culture, gender and other social issues.We can learn much from how the past understood the future.

Interestingly, for me there are clearly epochs in history when populations are captivated by the future being full of better possibilities and others when the prevaiding mood is more depressed or post-futurist. It would be interesting to characterise communities on the basis of such moods for their effect of the social innovation system as opposed to the business innovation system.

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