Sometimes thinking like a kid is the best way to free your imagination and wonder what the future might look like. For me, visiting Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom was a strategic touchstone of my youth – and has left me continually wondering, in 2014, where my silver suit is and when my journey to Mars (or at least Innerspace) will begin. I’d even settle for a monorail to the supermarket.
And then you have the opportunity – as I did a few weeks ago – to return to Tomorrowland, and get a sense of how dated some of those glimpses of a future actually are (and how reflective of the time of their incarnation). If you’ve been to Disneyland, you know what I’m talking about: the “disco” feel of Space Mountain, the funky `80s Jacko-mania of “Captain EO” (directed by Oscar Award winning director Francis Ford Coppola, of all people), all the “meta” references to our present-day crummy airport experiences in Star Tours (“flights to Alderaan leaving in five minutes” – hey isn’t Alderaan gone, totally blown away by Grand Moff Tarkin?), the now-deserted and unspoken-of ghost-tracks for the Peoplemover.
Beyond all the corny-but-cool rocket ships, Lucasfilm tie-ins, and now-defunct “Journey to Innerspace”, perhaps the best touchstone for those of us in the tech industry is the “Innoventions” House of Tomorrow. Those Gen Xers among us may recall it as the circular “America Sings” attraction – and since the late 1990s, has housed a vision of what a futuristic house (dare I say “smart home”?) of tomorrow might’ve looked like. What seemed amazing 10-15 years ago, now seems shockingly passé, when viewed by 2014 standards. I recall being amused by the futuristic “up loadable” picture frames, or the programmable, self-playing pianoklavier. But I don’t recall seeing an iPad, Bluetooth devices, or the invention of YouTube or Facebook anywhere (Amazon drones? Google Nest, anyone? And no mention of the Disney MagicBand?). And also, how fast “cool” becomes “meh” – five years ago in a visit to Innoventions, I thought “Power City” (a sort of shuffle-board-meets-city-builder, immersive video game) was cutting edge. Now, it’s been definitively passed by the Xbox Kinect, which is one of the few things at Innovations that now seems truly “space age” (and if, like this innovator, you take three Kinects and tie them together with an Oculus – which Facebook acquired – it will propel us further into the tomorrowland of virtual reality). Did I mention that one of several sponsors of Innovention is Microsoft? And in the words of Bill Gates: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction”.
Perhaps the best thing that displays offer us is a chance to see how our “quaint” our notions of the future may be, when looking backward – almost as a historian or cultural anthropologist. For example, I loved a picture I found off to the side of Walt Disney and the robot Garco from Mars and Beyond, circa 1957. Man and machine, benignly and happily working together. And in the “Home of Tomorrow”, if you looked carefully at a side char-rail, you’d see a homey little panel (that would have looked as at-home in Arts-and-Crafts 1934 as it does in “futuristic” 2014) that simply states in an open-to-interpretation-way: “It’s the Journey”. Indeed – and to paraphrase Gates, don’t be lulled into inaction.
Image source: Author Robert Brown