Past Visions of the Future Present

Artists of the past envisioned us riding whale buses, fishing for seagulls, playing underwater croquet, and dropping fire from the sky.

Over a century ago, the artists drew visions of today. Look.

They have us us commuting via underwater buses driven by harnessed whales, while the ladies in their dresses don scuba gear for an afternoon of underwater sport. Apparently, by now we are so bored with underwater discovery that all we can think to do down there is play, of all games, croquet. To do her toilette in preparation for such an event, Madame takes a seat in a special chair. One machine buffs her feet, another her nails, while the arms of yet another behind and beside her get to work on her hair and face. It seems to be taken for granted that after a century of progress, such matters will continue to be Madame’s chief concern.

There are special cars for battle. Also torpedo planes, ariel combat. War imagery, it seems, was most accurate.

Going to the theatre? Let’s take an aero-cab! Firefighters wear wings like bats and the postman flies the mail in the posture of one of those dragon-riding children from popular films. To go out for an afternoon ride might mean saddling a giant seahorse. Children don scuba-gear to fish for seagulls above.

Farming would be a matter of controlling machines from a central location. The man at the gears might survey the vast acres being worked and never glimpse a human form. There would be homes on wheels, rolling through the countryside. Clothing would be printed, and children wearing wings would make a game of robbing an eagle’s nest.

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Notes:

 “A 19th Century Vision of the Year 2000” featured on Public Domain Review highlights the images created by Jean-Marc Côté and other artists, produced for the 1900 world exhibit in Paris. They would most likely have been lost, had Isaac Asimov not chanced upon a set in 1986, which he published, with commentary, in his book Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000.

In Light of the Question of What Comes Next

There are dangers to remaining in isolation, however protective and necessary it has been before.

It’s spring 2021, and it’s graduation season at many campuses. In many parts of the world, there is a sense of emerging from a long isolation along with a shared sense of our collective fragility. Questions hang in the air and one of these is “What’s next?”

You have endured the waiting, wrestled with the inevitable demons that emerge in isolation, in a period of study, in axial times. You have put in long hours listening, learning, reading, practicing. You have revisited and revised: hopes, frustrations, longings, and of course, the work itself. I know of no other way to think of it than the Art of Being Here: as a person, protective of life in all forms and concerned about the mechanisms of its destruction. There is a time for the protection of the ecosystem necessary to cultivate a private practice of learning, listening, reading, hoping, longing, wondering and making. And then, it’s graduation season, and it’s warm outside, and you start to notice again what it means when the season shifts, and you realize that there are dangers to remaining in isolation, however protective and necessary it has been before. The danger is that it denies breath to the fundamental human impulse: to offer up. To say, “Here. I made this. Perhaps it can help you, too.” To remember how our making selves are the versions closest to our divine nature, and to offer these up is an act of bowing to the divine nature of others, by carrying one’s tiny flame in shaking hands, into dark spaces: to extend it to the wick of another, in the moments after the storm has blown it out. 

To the writers, artists, thinkers, and children who have given their light in ways that were meaningful and visible to me when I could see no other, I bow to you.