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Futurist Friday: Past Visions of the Future

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Meet Matt Novak.

Matt is a self-identified “accidental expert” on past visions of the future, and oversees the Paleofuture blog—an online archive of materials related to retro-futurism.

Paleofuture explores “the past that never was.” Why should we care what forecasters of previous decades and centuries got wrong?

a) It’s funny

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b) Laughing at the mote in others’ eyes can make us aware of the beam in our own. Blind spots. Get it?

For example, this recent post on a 1958 vision of Jetpack Mailmen, whooshing door to door to deliver letters. The post goes on to describe a vision from the next year that almost, but not quite, foresees email. But after envisioning how messages could be beamed through space, the author reverted to a printout for final delivery. Assumption: Mail = physical object.

Our visions of the future are often similarly constrained by assumptions about how things are or have to be. This constricts the mental map we draw of the Cone of Plausibility encompassing potential futures. Which means, in turn, we may incorrectly assume that some potential future are Simply Impossible or fail to imagine them at all.

Following Paleofuture is a great way to hone your ability to recognize and test such assumptions. After you have a good snicker at the expense of the poor sap who got it wrong, whip out a pen and make a few notes:

  • What underlying assumptions shaped this vision of the future?
  • How did each assumption influence the scenario created by the author or artist?
  • What happened in the world to undermine this assumption, and turn it on its head?

Want to take it a step further? Write or draw your own little story of the expected future—something you assume will come to be. Then turn a critical eye on your prediction, and have a good preemptive laugh.

To make Paleofuture part of your regular process of scanning for change add the blog to your RSS feed or follow Matt on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for passing along the tip about Paleofuture. What a great blog and excellent post! Its important to remember that our past predictions about the future can still be instructive in the present.

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