I want my flying car, my food synthesizing machine...heck, I'd even settle for a simple robot maid. Here it is 2009 and none of those things are a reality. I think that's what interests me about "retro futurism", what they thought was going to be the case in the future...just didn't come true.
The "they" I'm talking about is anybody from the past that speculated about things to come, from the writers of magazines like Popular Science, to the animators of the Jetsons. I guess it's easier to point out the things they got wrong, rather than all the ones they got right, easier...and more interesting.
The mice and men just assumed we'd be living on the moon, using jet packs to get to work, and eating food in pill form. They never stopped to think why any of those things would make life better... I mean really better. Moon living sounds kinda cool in some weird retro lounge way...but it would pretty much suck (literally sometimes). Food in pill form, kinda takes away the charm, and jet pack commuting...lots of corpses on the ground wearing ties.
The one thing they sorta got right was computers, in fact I think they underestimated their value by a long shot. I now carry a powerful computer in my pocket (iPhone), something I couldn't have even imagined ten years ago. Early visionaries still had computers taking up full rooms and spitting out punch cards, they didn't see the shrinking of the hardware or the potential of a virtual world. They got it wrong and right at the same time. They thought computers would be used for only big things, like to pick out the perfect mate or make important government decisions, and while those really did come true, we now know they do so much more than that. It's obviously tougher to predict the future than one would think. Thank goodness, because it gives "Retro Futurists" something to do.
The ultimate Futurist event was the 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair, AKA The Century 21 Exposition. It offered the promise of a sleek new world, but one of a 1950's consumerist optimism rather than what the '60s would later come to represent. As an example, the technology showcased for a woman was kitchen or home-maker based, no social or sexual equality was represented. Technology was our saving grace and America was king, as long as everything remained status quo. The Monorail, the Space Needle, the Science Pavilion, these are monuments to that age, or more accurately, the end of that age. I'm not saying Retro Futurism predictions didn't take place beyond the early '60s, but as the '70s approached, the plastic chrome plating wore off and the cynicism started to show through. It became more "Logan's Run", looked good, but with a serious downside. Now I'm just referring to mainstream pop culture and design, not so much deep science fiction literature. There were cynics in that realm long before the 70's (Brave New World).
My wife and I collect Seattle World's Fair stuff, and I could go on and on about all the neat-o items that were available. But to fit with my "flying car" theme, I'm highlighting this little paper pamphlet from the Ford Motor Company showcasing their Seattle'ite XXI concept car. It's an example of sweet retro-future styling, with some pretty accurate predictions. It predicts Fuel Cells, a Travel Computer, a GPS Map (it's in the rear view mirror), and a version of solar glass. These are all fairly accurate, and most more recent to the automotive world. It was styled like it was ready to take off and fly, bubble top, wings, and faux rocket tips on the rear end. It represents Retro Futurism pretty well. Seattle...Seattle'ite...Satellite...space age cool...but still no flying.