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Hello lovely friends. This week we're going back, then forward, possibly to end up back where we already are. Kinda like the hokey cokey. Yep, that's what it's all about.
'Computers in the home' from Usborne's Book of the Future. Can't see it? Click to view in your browser.
PAST FUTURES: My favourite childhood book by some margin was the unsurpassable Usborne Book of the Future: A Trip in Time to the Year 2000 and Beyond: an optimistic look at the future, from robotics to future cities and space travel. I don't know how I came by it (perhaps a hand-me-down from an older brother), nor what became of that copy. But it left an impression, so five years ago I tracked it down again. It's now long out-of-print but serial-archivist Jason Scott has added a full page-by-page scan to the Internet Archive. Useful for glancing, but you can't beat a printed copy.

While aimed at children, the authors did not take that to mean it should be simplified, patronising or rose-tinted. One memorable spread, "Two trips to the 21st century", examines two contrasting future cities; one a pollution-choked dystopia, the other operating in ecological harmony. Another, "Computers in the home", gives a surprisingly accurate depiction of a future home in the era of consumer electronics: online shopping, video phones, digital media, electronic mail, wireless headphones, giant flatscreen TVs, robotic drinks cabinets... what, you don't have a domestic robot serving you drinks? Luddite.

This beautiful 40-year-old book was the work of a formidable team. Kenneth Gatland, former president of the British Interplanetary Society, was an experienced technical author and futurologist, with access to a great many valuable sources including Arthur C. Clarke, Boeing, NASA and Bell Aerospace. David Jefferis had joined the new publisher as an ambitious graphic designer with a talent for visual information. Their predictions are then accompanied by astonishing illustrations by Gordon Davies, Terry Hadler, Michael Roffe, George Thompson and Brian Lewis who painted the book's cover art but passed away before its publication.

Of course, as a technocratic book, it has its blindspots. While environmentally progressive, it doesn't cover the political, social or commercial aspects of the future. It predicts smart devices but not the monolithic companies behind them. It misses the commercialisation of social interaction and the shift in wealth towards the rich. And given its white, male creators and the era of its creation, it has a diversity problem. But it gets a lot right, not least embracing both optimism and complexity. I'd hope if someone set out to create something similar today, but for a diverse audience of young minds, I'd hope they'd also capture this same spirit. 🚀
😊 Reasons to be Cheerful: David Byrne has founded a magazine in which he and team tell stories that reveal a surprising number of reasons to feel cheerful.

📺 YouTube Decade: lets you watch the biggest YouTube videos posted on this day ten years ago.

☔️ The Book of Prince: The notoriously private megastar set out to find a collaborator to help document his life story, but with only a few months to live.

🏗 Alaska’s Whimsical Goose Creek Tower: tucked away in the dense Alaskan wilderness, attorney Phillip Weidner has extended his log cabin skywards to form an eccentric 185ft tower.

🌪 Miami Requests E-Scooters to be Removed to Avoid “Scooternado”: With an inbound category 3 hurricane, the city has officially called for shared electric scooters to be removed from the streets.

🤖 Of Course Citizens Should Be Allowed to Kick Robots: following a (human) attack on a security-patrol robot, Wired ponders whether we are right to be hostile towards The Machine.
Future through the eyes of the past: For many, it's not a terrifically optimistic time right now. In periods of technological change, such as this, there can be cause for pessimism. In the Nineteenth century, as machinery replaced manual workers, there were many who observed the suffering of the working classes and spoke out against the tyranny of capitalism.

But equally there are also moments of technology-fuelled optimism: it was this that dominated the world into which many of us were born. There are complex issues that are better understood now than then, but we should still be able to find inspiration from eras of optimism. In pessimistic times, maybe more than ever, we shouldn't be put off looking forward and thinking "what if?".

I find the Usborne Book of the Future whets my appetite for reverse-nostalgia; fortunately retrofuturism is a well that runs deep... not least on /r/RetroFuturism. Canadian author and illustrator Bruce McCall presents an excellent introductory TED talk, and Tumblr also offers a rich seam: Scifi Art, 70s Sci-Fi Art and RetroFuturenaut. As an artform though, as in this evocative gallery, retrofuturism straddles creative optimism and delusion. And many predictions fell wide of the mark [thanks MS].

If all this futurising feels distant, such as this wonderful 1950s promotion film from Westinghouse touting the All-Electric House or visions of the future from The GPO and Walt Disney, it's still very much going on in corporate communications. Still rattled by its diesel emissions scandal, Volkswagen has poured a fortune into advertising a (currently) imaginary range of four electric cars. 🔌
Finally: even though I'm not a game developer, I love this Game developers' guide to graphical projections. 👾

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