As someone who grew up in Flushing, it was very exciting to go yesterday to the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the 1964 NYC World’s Fair. I went with my friend Barry, who I know since grade school. The event at the park was overcrowded (we thought we were going to be the only ones!) and corny (the new york state pavilion is mostly a shell of a building with nothing inside), but the real fun of the day was getting there. Barry’s car stalled by the expressway, which unleashed a whole series of little adventures which reminded us of our high school days, except now we had iPhones to amuse us while waiting for AAA, like searching on Google for the #1 song on the day of the opening of the World’s Fair, which we can now tell you was the Beatles “She Loves You.”
The World’s Fair in 1964 was not a financial success, but it was well-known for introducing to America the “It’s a Small World” ride, color television, and Belgian waffles! The fair was also the inspiration for Epcot Center in Disneyworld.
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!