Adventure thru Inner Space

“It’s often been said that science fiction predicts the future. I’d argue that this isn’t generally the case. In fact, it’s the future that predicts science fiction.

“First off, we have to understand what we mean when we talk about “the future.” That definite article “the” implies that there is a single future, but of course there isn’t—despite how we talk about it, the future isn’t a fixed, tangible thing, it’s a psychological and social construct. (The past is also a psychological and social construct, but we won’t get into that here.) Each of us has one or several possible models of the future in mind at any given time—both our personal future and the future of the world—and society as a whole also has several possible agreed-upon futures under consideration.

“These models of the future are built by the human brain, extrapolating from the present situation using information gathered from past events, and they are all inherently flawed because of the limitations of the human brain. Even computer models and other calculations are built according to rules devised by human brains, and are equally subject to these flaws. Our vision of the future tells us much more about ourselves, our pasts, and our present than it does about the actual future…”

“Tomorrowland, a section of the Disneyland theme park that nominally reflects the world of the future, is a vivid example of how our views of the future have changed over time.

“In Tomorrowland’s first phase (1955-1967), the main attractions were the Moonliner, a simulated trip to the moon, sponsored by TWA; Autopia, an automobile-driving ride for children, reminiscent of the interstate highway system; the all-plastic House of the Future, sponsored by Monsanto; and the Submarine Voyage, inspired by the voyage of the Nautilus, the first atomic-powered submarine, under the north pole. You can easily see how these attractions reflected the interests and concerns of the time.

“Tomorrowland was given its first major makeover in 1968. Major new attractions added at this time included the Carousel of Progress, sponsored by GE, which touted the wonders of electricity; Adventure Thru Inner Space, sponsored by Monsanto, which took riders on a journey into the heart of the atom; and Peoplemover, sponsored by Goodyear, a scaled-down model of a clean, quiet, rubber-tired public transit system of the future. Not long thereafter, the Moonliner was remodeled into Mission to Mars and Space Mountain, Disney’s first multimedia rollercoaster, was added. These changes reflected the fact that the concerns of the immediate post-war period had been replaced with new concerns, more consumer-oriented and even more expansive.

“By 1998, Tomorrowland was becoming increasingly dated despite some cosmetic changes and was given another major makeover. Notable changes at this time included the addition of the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, a new interactive ride in which riders could compete not only with each other but with people all over the world via the Internet, and the replacement of the Rocket Jets with the new Astro-Orbitor, an essentially identical ride except that the older ride’s black and white NASA-style design was replaced with a new “retro-futuristic” design in bronze, gold, and brown.

“The harder Disney tried to keep its future up-to-the-minute, the faster it went out of date. (There’s nothing so stale as yesterday’s headlines.) So in recent years they’ve begun reaching all the way back to Jules Verne for a more “timeless” future. Even though these designs are already obsolete, they still retain a futuristic flavor, and it won’t fade so quickly…”

Text: David Levine, How the Future Predicts Science Fiction, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, February 2010.

Image: Tomorrowland’s Carousel of Progress via A Little Slice of Life.