Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

World of Tomorrow

I would love to travel back in time to the World of Tomorrow exhibit at the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow Park. During this famous fair, the most popular exhibit was the Futurama at the General Motors pavilion. Futurama was a massive, 36,000 square-foot scale model of America in 1960, complete with futuristic homes, urban complexes, bridges, dams, surrounding landscape, and, most important, an advanced highway system which permitted speeds of 100 miles per hour.

If I traveled back in time, I imagine meeting some young boy, maybe from Brooklyn, jauntily wearing a baseball cap to the side, visiting the fair with his parents, dreaming of the amazing future in store for him. He would not know that this world seen in front of him in the model would never come to exist in 1960, or ever. This boy from Brooklyn would have little knowledge of Germany or Japan, or realize, that by next year, our country would be involved in a war. A barbaric war that was completely at odds with the positive, hopeful, advanced futuristic vision shown in the scale model in the GM pavilion.

I would not tell this boy the truth about his future. I would not want to ruin his wonderment. I would not want to tell any visitor to the World of Tomorrow that I am from the future, and I know that this vision of the future is dead on arrival. Inspiration is important, even if it overly idealistic. Who knows where this inspiration would later lead this boy? The space program fizzled out, but how many of us were inspired to be astronauts and see the universe, like Captain Kirk? Or live in a world like The Jetsons? Perhaps if more boys and girls had attended this Futurama exhibit in 1939, and took it seriously enough, this fantasy world would have been created in reality during the next generation.

Am I alone in viewing the internet as a modern marvel, or am I as naive and misguided as the boy at the World’s Fair of 1939? Most of us have started to take the internet for granted, just like we have done with television.

A few years after the World’s Fair, this boy, now a young man, probably bought his first television. Television was once a wonder. Images and voices broadcast into people’s homes! Neighbors would gather together to watch “I Love Lucy.” Now, we all have big screen TVs and hundreds of channels, and most of the content on TV is the same. In a very real way, television was a disappointment. Is the internet already as un-interesting as television? How quickly anything that changes our perception of the world becomes mostly about porn and selling ringtones!

As a writer, blogging a godsend. It is groundbreaking to be able to publish your own material and have others read it, even if you write nonsense, even if you have three readers. Sure, most of us don’t make a penny, but in the past, you had to prove yourself (or know someone) before you could be heard by anyone in the world. Now, that isn’t the case — for better or for worse. I know many of us crave to be known as “real” writers, but that is immaterial to the technological marvel right in front of us. The fact that we argue about who we follow on Twitter, and Integrity badges, and “best” mommyblogger lists, and advertising revenue, and which blogger is writing a book, doesn’t matter in the long run. We will always fight and complain, because it is human nature. The Israelites were kvetching five minutes after seeing God give Moses the Ten Commandments! (Who’s in charge? Why is he boss? Let’s build a golden calf and sell it to the highest bidder?)

We are also in the middle of a historic event as huge as the invention of the printing press. The internet is like an expanding star, growing at a rate faster and farther than any of can imagine, with the potential to break down barriers that have existed for centuries. I wanted to remind myself of that today. The online experience is not just about how we can exploit it to personal gain. It is force bigger than each of individually. It is changing the world, a place where writing, television, radio, journalism, consumerism, and sexting all converge!

Today, I received a blog comment from someone in Germany. I flirted on Twitter with a woman in the UK. I emailed someone in Wisconsin. I IM-ed with Sophia in California. I went on Skype on my iPhone and talked to someone’s computer in Nashville. I read a blog post written by someone living in a small town in Canada, and then I sent her a comment. I read the NY Times. I ordered sneakers online. And this was all in one hour’s time!

That is amazing!

32 Comments

  1. I agree. It is amazing. With my husband in Afghanistan, I can honestly say that I do not take it for granted. I am grateful.

  2. Just showed this to my 9yo. Then he ran to the other computer to play his game. Heh.

  3. It is super amazing! I marvel at the internet every day, and wonder what my parents would say if they were here, or my grandmother, who was around for the Wright Brothers first flight.

    My father-in-law was a security guard at that World’s Fair. It is amazing to me that I can see a video of something he saw the year I was born.

  4. wow, this post took me so many places right now.

    i have family visiting from holland (real people not, imagine) reunited via hives which is the dutch myspace. a cousin who i have only seen a picture of, now pregnant 12 weeks and meeting and playing with my twin sons. a totally beserk uncle with her who just told me after wwII he and my dad were on a ship three months with almost nothing as children immigrating from indonesia to holland. the war tore their world apart and opened totally unheard of horizons.

    my father was a computer guy when we thought pong! was the epoch of gaming. we grew up with no less than 5 computers in the home at a time, and now there are at least 4 laptops running constantly in our mixed generation household.

    i have always thought the internet a miracle, the odd way we can connect and disconnect. and i never forget that no matter what, human nature dictates our connections. there are the assholes, the sages, the in and out crowds, love and death and blood and, yes, war.

    but it makes it flash by so quickly, so impermanent. i am glad google keeps it all though. in case someday my children need to find their family or maybe get to know their mama if i am not here for them. a miracle indeed.

  5. I believe the internet is amazing, and tool for miracles. I used it to find my mother an oncologist that treated the rare cancer she had, and connected with people all around the world who had it as well. Nine years ago I met a woman on AOL, who later placed her son with us for adoption. And last year, I found my half sister on Facebook and was able to establish a relationship with her.
    Yep, its amazing!

  6. It is truly incredible. I have made and met (for reals!) friends from all over the world and I didn’t even have to join the military to do it.

  7. You’re right, Neil. The internet is changing everything; no doubt in some ways of which we’re not yet aware…On the whole, I think it’s a force for good (notwithstanding the criminal element seeking to exploit its weaknesses). With the advent of low-cost laptops, the digital divide seems to be shrinking, which is an amazing development for those living in remote areas or Third World countries. And of course for the social aspect, it’s a wonderful thing!

  8. It is amazing, when you really stop and think about it.

  9. You know, the basis for their prediction isn’t that far off: that a series of high-speed (relatively) safer roadways (interstates) would enable people to live in the “farming communities” (i.e. outside the urban centers) yet still access the city for employment or entertainment.

    Sure, glass-domed trees and walls in between lanes never came to fruition, but the premise was there 70 years ago.

    As for the internet, it is, more than any recent “invention” an evolving technology. It has been around for more than a hundred years (communication lines like telegraph and then telephone offered a proving ground for improvement) and is still evolving today as improvements to the underlying technology (broadband cable, domestic fibre, wireless) continue.

    Its applications have proven to be more far-reaching, more universal than other technologies. Telephone, TV, radio are slowly being integrated. It’s not impossible to believe that the one-off “ideas” you see on engadget, like the internet radio that takes the stream feed from a station’s website and plays it on a device that looks like a radio, will eventually become the defacto standard (in other words, you won’t get radio from traditional modulated radio signals, but rather from a wireless internet connection).

    The internet has, and will continue to, change day to day life. People watched tv, but they didn’t use it to make a living.

    (Woah. LONG comment.)

  10. I miss the old days. Not that I got to experience them, though.

  11. It is totally amazing and I’m kind of glad we’re right in the big middle of it.

  12. I’m still excited about new technology, and I try not to take the Internet for granted. Quite often I wonder how on earth I’d ever survive without it!

  13. You did that all in an hour? That’s either impressive or disturbing; I’m not sure which.

  14. Great post, Neil. I love the video! It’s funny to think they were talking about 1960. But It’s too bad they didn’t figure out that roadway system.

  15. Yeah, but when will we live under the ocean or on the moon? Epcot totally lied to me.

  16. It is amazing. Until it is mundane. That’s when we’ll really find out its true impact. But by then, only historians will care.

  17. I’m old enough to remember TV remote controls on WIRES, and so marvel at kids who take their blackberrys/iPhones for granted – the all-the-time availability of an enormous data supply is astounding to me. The internet is wonderful, and wondrous!

  18. That little film was great. I went to the 1964 NY World’s Fair and even that was amazing.

  19. I’m old enough to remember black & white TVS with no remotes. Actually that was my parents who didn’t believe in TV–except for a half hour a day with our father and all we could sneak–and we could negotiate for more
    When we left they had a TV in almost every room

    I love the modern world but I’m also glad that my parents forced me to develop an imagination

  20. I have lived through an amazing transformation. The radio was new when I was born and TV didn’t arrive until after my son was born. Now I spend my days on the computer making new friends all over the world. To me it’s still mind boggling.

    Now if they would only make computers that didn’t catch viruses or act weird when you needed them the most.

  21. I disagree. Not amazing.

  22. My just turned 4 year old can use my iphone no problem. He looks at the weather, goes back to the ‘home page’, as he calls it, takes pictures (of mostly the ground) asks to see videos, and scrolls through the pics he’ll taken. I am both curious and scared out of mind for what’s to come for future generations. He’s 4 and can use an iphone. That’s kinda scary, no?

  23. Excellent! And I love that video, I’ve always been obsessed with the “World of Tomorrow.” I only wish those dreamers of the 1930s were given the power to bring some of their cooler ideas to fruition (the freeway stuff sounds way better than how it all actually turned out).

  24. I marvel over the wondrous internet and the even more fabulous iPhone daily.

    My Grandmother (born in 1932) loves my iPhone too.

    “W0W!”, she says as we check out all of her grandkids on facebook.

    Then I always ask her, “Grandma, when you were a kid, could you even imagine something like this?”

    “I guess not!”, she replies.

    ME EITHER!

  25. Would knowing the future change it? Of course!

    Better to let it all unfold.

    Peace,
    JP/deb

  26. i’ll give u an excuse to mention Indonesia too next time. Amazing innit?

    how’re u Neil?

  27. no, i’m with you. it still feels pretty dadgum cool to me.

  28. Amazing indeed. Great post Neil and very true.

  29. i find it intimidating, i’m not keeping up with the changes and i think it takes away from face to face social interaction. i do like the convenience of shopping on line, but i’d still rather go to the mall.

  30. Aw, shucks. Thanks for the blog crush!

  31. I still remember the first time I heard a CD. I was in high school. The music was George Winston. The CD player belonged to the parents of my then-boyfriend. Who was annoyed bc I ignored him so I could listen to it over and over–I’m not sure it was the music itself, but that it seemed as though I could feel every note as it fell over me. So crisp and so clear and so pure. So it-was-performed-right-there-and-just-for-me.

    And now I get pissed when web pages don’t load fast enough or the iPhone version of Safari crashes.

    Fortunately, I can still laugh at myself about these inconveniences, but it does make me wonder about my kids. They’re already surprised when the landline rings bc we almost never use it. And non-digital cameras?? OMG!

  32. The online experience is not just about how we can exploit it to personal gain. It is force bigger than each of individually. It is changing the world, a place where writing, television, radio, journalism, consumerism, and sexting all converge!

    That’s a beautiful set of words right there.

    I got to live in Alaska for a handful of years. For the first few months, I’d look around and constantly and go, “MY GOD, how amazingly beautiful this place is!” After a time I was startled to find that the majestic snow-topped mountain in front of me and the whales in the inlet were just sort of ‘visual white noise’. While sitting at the traffic light or walking down the sidewalk I started scolding myself for not noticing precisely how gorgeous this place was and for taking it all for granted.

    So yeah, I get it.

    The technological divide still scares the shit out of me, though.

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