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Entries in optimism (13)

Wednesday
Sep232009

Victor Cohn (1919-2000)

The prophets of misery and robotism too often focus their sights on the cocktail party instead of the school. They describe the life of past generations in nostalgic terms, but do not really compare the lives of average housewives or factory workers today with the lives of their grandparents and with the drudgery, ignorance and poverty that characterized and blackened the past. -- Victor Cohn, 1956

Victor Cohn (undated photo)Victor Cohn was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 14, 1919. He was raised in a lower-middle-class home, the son of Louis Cohn, a traveling salesman born in Chicago and Lillian Cohn, a housewife born in Minneapolis.

Cohn began his career as a journalist at the University of Minnesota's student newspaper, The Daily, where he served as editor from 1940-41. He developed a passion for writing impactful stories that connected emotionally, as well as technically (as he largely wrote about science and health) with readers.

Victor Cohn was an optimist. The kind of optimist who dared say the future had potential, that there was a chance everything could turn out alright. It is an attitude I admire, largely because it's an attitude I so rarely share. The problems facing the world today feel insurmountable in many ways.

According to his son, Jeffrey Cohn, his father's analysis of news about advances in medical science was tremendously insightful. Victor Cohn said that every story fit into one of two categories -- new hope or no hope.

In 1954 Cohn wrote a series of twelve syndicated articles for the Minneapolis Tribune titled 1999: Our Hopeful FutureThe series was expanded into a book in 1956 and follows the Future (with a capital "F") family; John Future, his wife Emily Future, and their children, Timothy, Peter, Susan and Billy Future. The Future family goes about their futuristic business in a world free of the technological obstacles which faced mankind in the primitive 1950s.

Pre-Jetsons and pre-Star Trek, the book serves as a kind of beautiful time capsule in which we imagine a distant and alien world. Disposable clothes, solar and nuclear-powered everything, TV-phones, lightning-fast transportation; the future was looking pretty sweet.

But Cohn was not an unreasonable man. His technologically optimistic book was a vision of hope for a better world, whatever form that took. While studying yesterday's visions of tomorrow it's easy to forget that people of the 20th century were not all wide-eyed rubes who believed the future was pre-destined to be shiny, happy and plastic. 

Such prophets who fail to balance good against bad too often would have us merely shrink from the tools that new decades always bring, and thereby acknowledge defeat in what is admittedly going to be a difficult struggle. A difficult struggle is man's typical state. Reject change, and we will be enslaved by it; others will accept the worst of it and dictate to us. Accept change, and we may control it. We need the voices of our more balanced critics if we are to remember to look inside ourselves, not just crow about our surface achievements. But we need the voices of optimists too if we are to see a vision ahead, if we are to see what we can accomplish. -- Victor Cohn, 1956

Thank you Victor Cohn, for reminding us that we must always be looking forward if we are to build a world where the "prophets of misery" are to be proved wrong.

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Monday
Mar232009

The Prophets of Misery and Robotism (1956)

Victor Cohn, in his 1956 book 1999: Our Hopeful Future, addresses those who romanticize the past and those with a general distaste for technology playing any positive role in humanity's future.

The prophets of misery and robotism too often focus their sights on the cocktail party instead of the school. They describe the life of past generations in nostalgic terms, but do not really compare the lives of average housewives or factory workers today with the lives of their grandparents and with the drudgery, ignorance and poverty that characterized and blackened the past.

Such prophets who fail to balance good against bad too often would have us merely shrink from the tools that new decades always bring, and thereby acknowledge defeat in what is admittedly going to be a difficult struggle. A difficult struggle is man's typical state. Reject change, and we will be enslaved by it; others will accept the worst of it and dictate to us. Accept change, and we may control it. We need the voices of our more balanced critics if we are to remember to look inside ourselves, not just crow about our surface achievements. But we need the voices of optimists too if we are to see a vision ahead, if we are to see what we can accomplish.

Previously on Paleo-Future:

Sunday
Jul132008

The Reluctant Optimist

Yesterday's Green Bay Press-Gazette (Green Bay, WI) ran a short piece about the Paleo-Future blog:

"It's been quite a journey," he said. "When I first started the site, I thought I had maybe a month's worth of material, but I dug deeper and who knew how many different versions of the future had happened during the 20th Century?"

 

Novak has taken a few things from digging around in the past to find out what today should have looked like to people half a century, or more, ago.

"If there's anything I've learned, it's that no one can predict the future with any degree of certainty," he said.

"And it's given me optimism. Because no one knows the future with any certainty, it's freeing and kind of feeling like, 'That's good; the future's not determined, and we can do what we want with it and try to make it a better place.'"


See also:
What the future didn't bring
New Hampshire Public Radio (Jan, 2008)
Paleo-Future in the Wall Street Journal
Article for MungBeing
Sincerity and the Paleo-Future
Postmodern Paleo-Future
Streamlined Cars of the Future

 

Friday
Aug102007

Sincerity and the Paleo-Future

The Summer 2007 issue of The Wilson Quarterly contains a small blurb about paleo-futurism. You may even recognize the name of a certain paleo-futurist blogger. An excerpt appears below.

Cars still don't fly, the moon remains uninhabited, and at home there's no robot doing the laundry. What happened to the future? To find it, bloggers and sci-fi buffs alike are flocking to websites that explore the paleofuture - "the future that never was." Matt Novak, the man behind paleo-future.blogspot.com, says that in today's cynical age, people crave the sincere and hopeful dreams of yesteryear.

Just to clarify, while we may long for sincerity in a world where sarcasm is the norm, I would rather be around today than at any other time in history. Too often we become nostalgic for a time that never existed. While the world is by no means perfect and there is plenty to do in making it a better place to live, most of us live longer and more comfortably than our great-grandparents did.

This could very well be the naiveté of a recent college graduate, but I feel writing this blog has exposed me to the fact that doomsday prophets are almost always wrong. And I like those odds.

Those of us who love studying history must occasionally take a breath and remember that tomorrow is the only thing we can truly change. So . . . what are you doing tomorrow?

See also:
Article for MungBeing

Wednesday
Jun062007

Moving Sidewalks by Goodyear (1956)


As a follow-up to last week's post on the moving sidewalk of 1900, today we have an illustration published in 1956. The image below appears in the book 1999: Our Hopeful Future by Victor Cohn. It was produced by Goodyear and shows the (semi-realized) hopes for this paleo-futuristic technology.


See also:
Moving Sidewalk (1900)
I want an oil cream cone! (1954)
Postcards Show the Year 2000 (circa 1900)

Wednesday
May162007

Closer Than We Think! (1958-1963)

In 1958 Arthur Radebaugh started the syndicated Sunday comic Closer Than We Think! It ran in newspapers until early 1963. The strip really epitomizes the optimistic brand of futurism so common in the post-WWII era. Below are a few great examples of this paleo-futuristic strip from the Chicago Tribune.

Push-Button Education - May 25, 1958
"Teaching would be by means of sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines."


Wrist Watch TV - April 17, 1960
"TV sets the size of postage stamps will soon be worn on the wrist, each with a personal dialing number."


"Pogo" Police Car - May 4, 1958
"Here, for tomorrow, is the concept of policemen on mechanical pogo platforms ..."


Farm Automation - March 30, 1958
"A floating tower will oversee a swarm of robot implements and tractors operated by electronic command."


Gravity in Reverse - June 29, 1958
"Factory-made houses equipped with antigravity machinery could be floated above the ground - to catch the breezes!"


See also:
Word Origins: Imagineering (1947)
Ristos (1979)
Homework in the Future (1981)
Connections: AT&T's Vision of the Future (Part 7, 1993)
The Road Ahead: Future Classroom (1995)
Superfarm of the Year 2020 (1979)

Thursday
Apr262007

Prelude to a Great Depression (The Chronicle Telegram, 1929)

In the March 8, 1929 issue of the Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, Ohio) Roger W. Babson made predictions of what the future held. Below is an excerpt under the heading of "Stocks and Bonds." Babson couldn't estimate how quickly everything was about to change and that it would be for the worse. It almost reminds me of an Onion article in its optimism for the future.

In finance there will also be marked changes as the years roll by. The present generation has been chiefly interested in trying to buy and sell stocks and bonds at advantageous prices. While this is an important aspect of finance, it is very far from being the only aspect and perhaps it cannot be called the most vital aspect. I am ready to make this forecast, that during the next twenty years the public will develop a totally new viewpoint toward finance. The word will not only take meaning for thousands of people of very moderate income, but those of wealth will get entirely fresh concepts. I foresee with especial assurance that the field of trusts will offer great opportunities. The American public is being taken into partnership in our great industries of large scale. I feel very positive that the number of people interested in stocks and bonds will increase far out of proportion to the mere increase in population.

See also:
Dancing on the Moon (1935)