Thursday, March 28, 2013


According to Wikipedia, retro-futurism "is a trend in the creative arts showing the influence of depictions of the future produced prior to about 1960."  Although, personally, I would include any artwork or writing more than 25 years old depicting society some time in the future as retro-futuristic.  For example, this Los Angeles Times Magazine article from 1988 describes what a day in the life of a fictional Los Angeles family might be like in 2013.  Some of the predictions aren't to far off, such as people using "electronic-mail."  In some cases, the prediction is close, but just a little off...such as printing out a newspaper.  There's no need to print out the can just read it on a screen.  On the other hand, the article also predicts this fictional family would have a "mobile home robot" named Billy Rae which sounds a lot like Rosie from the Jetsons.  We certainly don't have robot servants making us meals in our homes yet.  And our cars don't look like they do in the picture below either.

You can read the whole article here on the LA Times website.

That article depicts a future time that is now the present day.  The image below is from a magazine article in 1925, envisioning what a city might look like in 1950.

The image below is a picture of the Monsanto "House of the Future," which was an actual attraction at Disneyland from 1957 to 1967.

To read the article, click here to see this picture at, where you can click on it and view a larger version.

I don't recall what date is being depicted in the picture below of what a future Soviet Union city might look like, but I'm guessing it might be predicting a time that was around 25ish years or so from the date the artwork was done.  It doesn't look that ridiculous, but the Soviet Union fell in 1991, and I'm pretty sure it never looked like this.

I'm not sure when the image below was published, but it was probably published sometime between 1910 and 1930.  I'm also not sure how far into the future the artist was envisioning, but I would guess maybe around 25ish years or so here also.  The planes are a little silly looking, but other than that, I think it's probably a fairly accurate depiction of New York sometime after the artwork was initially done.  

Twenty-five years isn't really that far into the future in the grand scheme of things though.  Sometimes the further into the future a person tries to envision, the more different it may be from reality when that time actually comes.  The image below is from a magazine printed in 1923, envisioning what an automobile might look like 1973.  The depiction then of what an automobile might look like 50 years in the future turned out to not be very accurate.  Advancements were made in automotive engineering between the 20s and 70s and the styles certainly changed, but even today, automobiles are still 4-wheeled vehicles that (arguably) look more like the automobiles of the 20s than the automobile depicted on the cover of this magazine (but it is kind of cool looking in a reto-futuristic space age kind of way).

I'm not sure how far into the future this "book reader of the future" was envisioned to be in when it was published in 1935, but I haven't seen anything like it, and at this point, I doubt we will see anything like it.  It would be unnecessary to have something this large and cumbersome when you can read books on a tablet.

Envisioning 100 years in the future could potentially result in some pretty far out depictions though, such as in the images below by artist Jean-Marc Côté.  They were published between 1899 and 1910, depicting what he thought France may look like in the year 2000 (click the images to make them larger).


If it had been drawn today, this machine would probably be referred to as "steampunk."  

Fish Racing?  Seriously?

If only it were that simple.

Going through these, I think we can say his depictions of fashion in the year 2000 were not accurate.

Underwater croquet?  Why?

I don't think animal rights groups would like this.

Well...that kind of looks like fun.

Fishing for seagulls?  What would be the point in this?  And why would you want to do it this way?

Clearly people have been wanting robotic maids for a long time now...what's taking so long?

It's a shame something like this doesn't exist.  That looks like a lot of fun to fly around in.

Do seahorses that large even exist?

Geez...what kind of eagle is that?  A Thunderbird?
Most of those look rather silly now, but are an interesting window into the mind of a late Victorian (and early Edwardian) era futurist.  Clearly, Côté was convinced people would be flying around in all kinds of devices by the year 2000.  Obviously we had different kinds of aircraft by the year 2000, but they look a lot different than his depictions of aircraft in the year 2000.  In his defense though, he was envisioning a time that was then 100 years in the future, and many modern technologies like the internet, PC, and TV were still a long ways from being invented yet.  You can see more of his artwork at the Huffington Post.

Seeing retro-futuristic depictions of our present and recent past today makes me wonder what depictions of the future today will look like when the days they depict actually arrive.  I also wonder what people born 300 years from now would think of shows like Star Trek that take place a few hundred years in the future.  What will the reality be then?

One thing all of these retro-futuristic depictions have in common though is they depict a better future with positive innovations.  Let's continue to look towards a future of more positive innovations.

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