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Entries in joseph j. corn (4)


The Trench Destroyer (1917)

This chilling image from the height of World War I appeared on the February, 1917 cover of Hugo Gernsback's The Electrical Experimenter. The excerpt below is from Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future by Joseph Corn and Brian Horrigan.

The design of this mobile dreadnaught, with its steel-tired, spoked wheels, suggests that its inventor may have been influenced by agricultural tractors or perhaps an amusement park Ferris wheel. The trench destroyer also embodies the common goal of military visionaries: maximum offensive power with total defensive security.

 Previously on Paleo-Future:



Dawn of the Wireless Phone (1901)

William Edward Ayrton (source: Wikimedia)Susan J. Douglas has a fascinating essay about early wireless telegraphy in the book Imagining Tomorrow: History, Technology and the American Future, which was edited by Paleo-Future Legend Joe Corn.

Douglas excerpts a prediction by Professor William Edward Ayrton that appeared in a 1901 magazine called The Century. In it, Ayrton said that wireless telegraphy would soon allow people to talk over long distances in a highly targeted manner. The phrasing of the piece is remarkably relevant to the mobile phone as Ayrton describes a person's ability to "call to a friend he knew not where."

In commenting on Mr. Marconi's paper (read before the Society of Arts in May) Professor Ayrton said that we were gradually coming within thinkable distance of the realization of a prophecy he had ventured to make four years before, of a time when, if a person wanted to call to a friend he knew not where, he would call in a very loud electromagnetic voice, heard by him who had the electromagnetic ear, silent to him who had it not. "Where are you?" he would say. A small reply would come, " I am at the bottom of a coalmine, or crossing the Andes, or in the middle of the Atlantic." Or, perhaps in spite of all the calling, no reply would come, and the person would then know that his friend was dead. Think of what this would mean, of the calling which goes on every day from room to room of a house, and then think of that calling extending from pole to pole, not a noisy babble, but a call audible to him who wants to hear, and absolutely silent to all others. It would be almost like dreamland and ghostland, not the ghostland cultivated by a heated imagination, but a real communication from a distance based on true physical laws.

This is the case for this wonderful handmaiden of modern development at the present moment. So much is absolutely assured; so much more is tentatively ascertained; vastly greater things are predicted for the future. That the fullest success may visit the inventor and his system, that this accompaniment to modern progress may be perfected beyond cavil, and that the whole world may soon come to enjoy the great benefits of this splendid exploit, must be the hope of every well-wisher of the progress and enlightenment of the human race.

From The Century Magazine of November 1901 to April 1902, quoting Engineering Magazine of July, 1901.


Previously on Paleo-Future: 



Joseph Corn on Future Shock (May 17, 2008)

This past May I sat down with Joseph Corn, co-author of Yesterday's Tomorrows, to talk about past visions of the future. We chatted over coffee at Brian Horrigan's house (Brian is the other author of Yesterday's Tomorrows) about the paleo-future of transportation, robot servants and the end of the world.

Joe challenged a lot of my assumptions about how to classify different decades and the way in which various generations view the future optimistically or pessimistically. A short excerpt from our conversation appears below.

Matt Novak: Have you ever read Alvin Toffler's Future Shock?


Joseph Corn: I did. I so vividly remember reading it in a campground in the Redwoods in Northern California.

MN: What did you think of it then and what do you think of his ideas now?

JC: [long pause] They deserve re-examination now, the concept of future shock. At the time of his writing . . . I didn't really find it that persuasive. People talk as if future shock is a major syndrome that deserves Medicare treatment today, and I sort of feel that way. The pace at which software changes and technology generally, although it is still filling in . . . Filling in the cracks is not the right metaphor . . . I've had a personal computer now for 25 years and it is so different. The web, plus wireless, plus speed, plus miniaturization in the laptop form makes it something different. As we carry these things around with us when we couldn't with an IBM PC.

MN: Do you think that all this technological change that you've seen recently, is that harming us? Because that seems to be the main thesis of his . . .

JC: I don't buy that. As a historian I'm very skeptical. I think we're trained professionally to be skeptical of . . . you might put it, in terms of the Golden Age fallacy. There was a moment when things were better and everything's been done since. I just can't buy that. One could worry and yet, I don't. I just see it as different. As fascinatingly different. I just don't see civilization going to hell in a handbasket. [long pause] At least I don't want to.

See also:
Future Shock (1972)
Future Shock - Electrical Stimulation (1972)
Future Shock - Skin Color (1972)
Future Shock - Babytorium (1972)



The Air-Ship or One Hundred Years Hence (1908)

It saddens me greatly to read about films that are forever lost to deterioration. The 1984 book Yesterday's Tomorrows by Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan mentions a film that was released in 1908 under the title The Air-Ship or One Hundred Years Hence. The ad below advertised the film, giving it second billing to The Great One Hand Pianist. This ad for the Electric Theatre appeared in the May 19, 1908 La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wisconsin).

Anyone with more information about this film is encouraged to fill us in. For now, let us raise our glasses to this paleo-future wonder, currently playing at The Great Showhouse in the Sky.