Retrofuture Today

We're well and truly into the 21st century now. By this point we were supposed to be commuting to work in flying cars, vacationing on the moon, and living in mile-high skyscrapers. We're not, and in some cases this is a very good thing - imagine the carnage if Boston drivers, for instance, were actually able to fly in low-altitude traffic lanes. But looking back at these promises can still invoke the unusual sensation of nostalgia for things that never existed. Retrofuture Today 'reminds us of what might have been.'

With none of the bells, whistles, frames, animations or other accoutrements of many of the other sites reviewed in this column, Retrofuture Today also reminds us that you can still post a website with nothing more than basic HTML - if your subject is worth the attention. Content here simply consists of a series of (20) brief text articles, accompanied with apropos images, (which, in many cases include the early- and mid-century 'artist's impressions' of what the next century would look like) and the occasional audio file.

The first piece, The Year That Never Happened, covers a subject that all the site's visitors will be able to identify with - 2000 A.D. and the predictions (from the millennium bug to Nostradamus) that didn't quite pan out. Others, depending on your access to vintage science fiction and Popular Mechanics magazines, (not to mention your own, personal, vintage) may or may not ring a bell, but are worth reviewing regardless.

Flying cars and moon jaunts may be fairly familiar examples of, let's call them, 'temporarily delayed,' plans. But visitors might not know that Disney's EPCOT Center was originally conceived as, "a private community of 20,000 inhabitants living and working with the latest cutting-edge technology," or that Jacques-Yves Cousteau believed that humans would soon be altering their anatomy to facilitate living underwater.

Some developments might have you wondering how the developers and predictors could have missed the glaringly obvious (such as the consequences of a 'fender bender' at 1000 feet). Picture phones have been the 'next big thing' since the 1960's, but very few people consider themselves fit for public viewing every time they answer the phone. (Even the Jetsons knew that.) Similarly, predictions that robots and other labor saving devices would lead to a world where everyone only worked a few hours a day, completely missed the profit motive (i.e. greed) that would encourage companies to use said devices to reduce their workforce instead (while keeping the remaining humans at full- or overtime shifts).

There are a few stories covering realized dreams as well, and include such subjects as the 'untold story' of Ham the astrochimp, a '60s hit inspired by a satellite (RealAudio file included), and Alan Shepard's lunar golf break.

Though I wish the site had more subjects and more depth*, the brief introductions provided here are definitely entertaining, and may also serve to spark some speculation about our own predictions for the next 50 years or so. (I have a few of my own, but I'm waiting till sometime around 2049 to publish them.)

Retrofuture Today can be found at http://www.retrofuture.com/.

(* If past predictions of interest to you, and you can get your hands on an out-of-print book titled "Wasn't the Future Wonderful?", by Tim Onosko, you'll find almost 200 pages of direct reprints from 1930s editions of Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and Modern Mechanix.)

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