March 20, 2013
This is the 22nd in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The 22nd episode of “The Jetsons” originally aired on February 24, 1963, and was titled “Private Property.”
Like many that would come before it, this episode of “The Jetsons” centers around the business rivalry between Mr. Spacely and Mr. Cogswell. However, a short scene from the episode featuring Judy and Jane is far more interesting for our purposes than two middle-aged cartoon men yelling at each other about where their property lines begin and end.
Jane and George have tickets to go to a play titled My Space Lady, a reference to the 1950s Broadway musical hit My Fair Lady. In order to determine what to wear to the play, Judy employs a rather Jetsonian method of trying on clothes.
“What are you wearing to the show tonight, Mother?” Judy asks.
“Well, Judy I can’t make up my mind,” Jane replies.
Judy suggests turning on the “dress selector” in order to find an appropriate outfit for the show.
“Oh we need the facsimile image! It’s the second button from the top, Judy.”
A screen descends from the ceiling in front of Jane and Judy pushes a button to turn on the dress selector projection machine. But when it comes to dresses Jane has is very discerning. “No, not this one, early Galaxy simply isn’t in vogue this season,” she says.
Another dress is projected onto her body. “Ooh, isn’t that a Christian Di-Orbit, mother?” Judy asks in a 21st century nod to mid-20th century French fashion designer Christian Dior.
“Yes, but I wore it at the ballet last month,” Jane replies.
With yet another switch, Jane decides on a dress with the projected image moving along with her arms in perfect synchronization.
In the 1993 AT&T concept video “Connections” we see a similar scenario play out as the one that would precede it by 30 years on “The Jetsons.” In this case, a woman and her daughter are shopping for a wedding dress. The daughter visits her mom at work and they proceed to “go shopping” by dialing in to Colton’s National Bridal Service.
The service asks the daughter to authorize her electronic mannequin, which brings up an animated avatar of her in a simple white tunic and heels. They can then flip through the different possibilities in wedding dresses, customizing features as they see fit while being able to see what it looks like on her body.
Here in the year 2013, we seem ever closer to that Jetsonian vision of choosing outfits. A number of clothing websites now let you “try on” clothes in a virtual fitting room, while shopping malls are also installing machines that allow you to find your size by way of sizing kiosks. Yesterday I walked down to Culver City’s Westfield mall and tried out their Me-Ality sizing machine.
I began by giving the attendant working the booth my name, birthdate, zip code, and email. Stepping into the booth feels a bit like the TSA’s backscatter “naked” x-ray machines, though the young woman working there assured me theirs is different (read: less cancer-causing?) technology. After a 10-second scan (again, which feels exactly like an airport backscatter scan with its swoopy arm buzzing in front of me) I exit the booth and am shown a computer screen which lists various types of clothing. Touching each button category (jeans, sweaters, etc) brings up stores that may have clothes in my size.
As the Huffington Post notes, the free clothes sizing scan from Me-Ality comes at a cost. Not only is your information shared with retailers, Me-Ality also sells all of the data to researchers and marketers, since it “collects information about the precise heights, weights and body mass indexes of the shoppers who use it, from which it can also determine health risk factors.”
As far as we can tell, Jane Jetson never had her body mass index, email and zip code sold to market research folk. But welcome to the retail future.
February 15, 2013
There’s nothing hotter right now than starting your own libertarian-minded community from scratch. Or at least threatening to do so.
Glenn Beck imagines building a community/theme park somewhere in the United States called Independence Park which would celebrate entrepreneurship and sustainable living. Others envision Idaho as the perfect spot to build a fortress-like libertarian utopia called The Citadel, where “Marxists, Socialists, Liberals, and Establishment Republicans” need not apply. Still others — like PayPal founder Peter Thiel – are drawn to the idea of floating cities in the ocean, a libertarian dream of the future called seasteading.
But all of these dreams pale in comparison to the grand utopian vision of a 1978 film called Libra. Produced and distributed by a free-market group based in San Diego called World Research, Inc., the 40-minute film is set in the year 2003 and gives viewers a look at two vastly different worlds. On Earth, a world government has formed and everything is micromanaged to death, killing private enterprise. But in space, there’s true hope for freedom.
The film explains that way back in 1978 a space colony community was formed using $50 billion of private funds. Back then, government regulations were just loose enough to allow them to form. But here in the year 2003, government regulators are trying to figure out a way to bring them back under their oppressive thumb through taxes and tariffs on the goods they ship back to Earth.
The video starts with a rather ominous voice-over as the camera pushes in on a picture of the earth:
Let’s face it. Your world is falling apart. Politicians engaging nations in wars against the will of the people. Increasing worldwide poverty and starvation. Inflation, high unemployment, staggering crime rates. Skyrocketing costs of nationalized health care. Overpopulation. Inability to meet your energy needs. Bankrupt cities, bankrupt states, bankrupt nations and morally bankrupt people.
We then see that this is New York City in the year 2003.
Needless to say, the film’s vision for 2003 isn’t very pleasant — at least for those left on Earth. The Earth has an International Planning Commission, which naturally feels threatened by the idea of “uncontrolled energy” being harnessed by the people who work on Libra. The people of Libra seem happy, while those on Earth cope with the world government’s dystopian top-down management of resources.
The film follows an investment banker and a world government official who both travel to Libra on a fact-finding mission. The investment bankers are looking to invest in solar power and space manufacturing industries at Libra, while the world government senator is trying to figure out how he can rein in the renegade capitalists of Libra.
On their journey to Libra in a space shuttle, the characters watch a film which explains how the space colony works. Here in space, the film explains, residents are free to “work, raise families and enjoy living.”
The illustration on your screen shows the exterior design of Libra. Residents live in the central sphere. A rotation rate of approximately two revolutions per minute provides a gravity-like force which varies from zero gravity at the poles to full earth-like gravity at the equator. Inside the sphere, the land forms a big curving valley rising from the equator to 45 degrees on each side. The land area is mainly in the form of low-rise terraced apartments, shopping walkways and small parks with grass and trees. A small river flows gently along the line of the equator. You will notice the small scale of things. But for the 10,000 population there is more than adequate population.
Later in the film viewers get an interesting peek into what daily life is like when a resident shows the investment banker her Abacus computer.
The Abacus is a bit like Siri – if Siri only knew how to read you a copy of Consumer Reports. As the resident explains, “Abacus is one of the most popular consumer-information computers on Libra. These computing systems will give and receive information when you want it, where you want it and in the style you want it.”
The Libra resident explains, “Now if you have any questions about products or services — anything from toothbrushes to a doctor’s qualifications, it can probably react to you better than I can, in any one of four languages!”
On second thought, Abacus is actually less useful than Consumer Reports given the fact that it doesn’t make a recommendation for what it thinks is the best product or service.
When the investment banker asks which wristwatch he should’ve purchased, the computer begins chanting, “freecision… freecision… freecision…”
The woman explains that on Libra the computer won’t make any of your decisions for you, lest you become one of the mindless drones back on Earth: “Abacus won’t make it for you! It can’t decide what’s best for you! That’s your freesponsibility!”
“Freesponsibility…” the investment banker says mulling over the concept. “That’s not a bad word.”
“I know,” the woman replies. “It’s what’s been attracting more and more regulation refugees from Earth.”
Ultimately, the biggest concern of the corrupt world government revolves around cheap energy being produced which competes with their stranglehold on regulating the world’s energy supply.
The senator goes on international TV to debate Dr. Baker from the Libra space colony. Dr. Baker is a sort of uber-Galt who preaches the gospel of free enterprise and makes a fool of the senator during their debate. By the end of the film we’re left to wonder if the senator is a believer in world government anymore. With a long gaze into his eyes, viewers can imagine that he will soon join the others as a “regulation refugee.”
You can watch the entire film over at AV Geeks.
June 26, 2012
It’s hard to imagine a world before the ubiquitous security camera. In major cities around the world, it’s just expected that we’re all being photographed maybe dozens of times a day.
The CCTV camera has permeated popular culture and is an icon frequently used by artists who are concerned with the rise of the surveillance state. But its predominant image as the Orwellian eye in the sky wasn’t always a given. Just as people were experimenting with the potential uses of broadcast TV in the 1930s, so too were people envisioning different ways to utilize closed-circuit television in the 1950s.
And with the emergence of color television technologies in the early 1950s, the opportunities were even more expansive; CCTV might be used as a way to teach doctors-in-training or sell brightly colored dresses in a shop window while it’s modeled from inside the store.
The January 1951 issue of Radio-Electronics magazine explained how people of the future might put color CCTV to use. The battle over color broadcast TV that the article mentions was an early format war between three different companies looking for FCC approval. CBS had a field-sequential system, Color Television Incorporated (CTI) had a line-sequential system, and RCA had a dot-sequential system. In 1950, the CBS system was the front-runner but it was ultimately abandoned in 1953 and an improved version of the RCA system became the standard.
While the battle over color television broadcasting rages, another type of color television has been taking over without fanfare or opposition. The field being conquered peacefully is industrial closed-circuit television. Already established in monochrome, it is finding color a valuable adjunct.
The term “industrial television” has been interpreted to mean roughly all non-entertainment uses of the new medium, including its employment at fashion shows and in banks. In a number of applications, industrial television supervises operations too dangerous for human beings. It makes possible certain types of advertising displays and saves manpower in work requiring observation at a number of separate points.
Possibly the most publicized application of closed-circuit color television is televising surgical operations. Since internes can learn operating techniques only by watching skilled surgeons, making the operation visible to larger numbers is important.
The idea of a live model showing off a dress through CCTV seems interesting. I’m not aware of any department stores that actually did this. If you are, please let me know in the comments. I’m sure someone must’ve tried this.
It seems banks are always on the forefront of new security technologies. Just as the first practical use of microfilm was by a banker in 1925, this article imagined that new optics would allow for the quick and convenient transmission of signatures in order to verify the authenticity of a check.
Today, the use of TV cameras to investigate mining disasters is commonplace. In 2010, the 33 trapped Chilean miners were seen by a TV camera mounted on a probe sent below.
Another common use for cameras today, which was predicted in this 1951 article, is for the monitoring of traffic. Below, traffic tunnels of the future are looked after by a lone man (with apparently 24 monitors).
And then there’s the infrared camera of the future which will allow you to keep your possessions safe, even in the dark.
Lastly, there is the “staring at gauges” use of CCTV. The article includes a lot of these kinds of illustrations, but I’ve only included one example below. You get the idea…
April 27, 2012
New York has the Statue of Liberty, St. Louis has the Gateway Arch and Los Angeles has the Hollywood sign.
It seems rather fitting that the landmark most emblematic of Los Angeles — a city built on glitz and showmanship — is an advertisement.
If you’re at all familiar with the history of the Hollywood sign, you’ll likely remember that it started as an ad for a new housing development in 1923 called Hollywoodland. Using 4,000 light bulbs, the sign was illuminated at night and flashed in three succeeding segments: first “holly,” then “wood,” and then “land.” The sign would then light up in its entirety, all 4,000 light bulbs piercing through the dark of night to the city below.
Los Angeles didn’t invent outdoor advertising (that distinction may belong to the ancient Egyptians, who would post papyrus notices of rewards offered for runaway slaves), but it certainly played a prominent role in the city’s history and its visions of the future. As the automobile took the city by storm in the first half of the 20th century, it became increasingly necessary for advertisers to make their billboards larger so that speeding motorists wouldn’t miss their message.
The 1982 film Blade Runner showed viewers a dark, futuristic version of Los Angeles in the year 2019. Prominent ads for Coca-Cola and Pan Am blink back at you throughout the film, looming large and bright in this highly branded vision of the future.
Today, with digital billboard technology becoming commonplace, local governments all over the country have been fighting advertisers with outright bans. Cities claim that these relatively new forms of outdoor advertising are ugly and distract drivers. Of course, these were the exact claims that the opponents of billboard advertising were making in the early 20th century.
Part of the tremendous growth in outdoor advertising in Los Angeles had to do with the fact that there was relatively little regulation of billboards in California. As the March 1929 California Law Review noted in “Billboard Regulation and the Aesthetic Viewpoint with Reference to California Highways”:
What legislation has been enacted in California on the subject[?] Hardly any. This state prohibits the placing or maintenance of signs on property of the state or its subdivisions “without lawful permission,” or on private property without the consent of the owner or lessee, and the signs so prohibited are declared to be nuisances. A sign erected upon or over a state road or highway without a permit from the department of engineering is further declared to be a public nuisance, punishable as a misdemeanor. This is all the legislation on the subject in this state.
The essay goes on to contrast California’s lax billboard laws with the laws of other states at that time: like Kansas (billboards prohibited within 1000 feet of a highway, even if it’s on private property), Connecticut (billboards prohibited within 100 feet of any public park, state forest, playground or cemetery), or Vermont (billboards must meet the explicit approval of the secretary of state in kind, size and location). Vermont would later go on to make billboards entirely illegal in that state in 1968. In fact, four states (Hawaii, Alaska, Maine and Vermont) all ban billboard advertising anywhere within their borders.
The goal of the California Law Review paper was to propose new laws to regulate billboards. The paper suggested that a progressive tax be placed on billboards based upon their size; that billboards be restricted in areas that are deemed unsafe for motorists, such as at crossings, curves and hills; and that the size of billboards be restricted, the largest being relegated to “commercial districts.”
Today, battles over the regulation of billboards continue in Los Angeles. The last few years have seen major fights over so-called “supergraphics” — gigantic billboards placed on the sides of buildings, stretching many stories tall. They’re incredibly hard to miss — rivaling those predicted by Blade Runner in size, if not electronics — and are scattered around the city, most prominently downtown and along major freeways. The city has sued many of the media companies that negotiate and install these ads, claiming that they’re illegal, and winning over $6 million in lawsuits thus far.
It’s tough to say just how hard the city of Los Angeles will clamp down on the proliferation of billboards — be they digital or merely huge — but for the time being Angelenos will likely remain just this side of a branded, Blade Runner future. With just seven years until 2019, it seems legislation and litigation will be the only thing keeping Los Angeles from achieving full bladerunner.
[The 1917 Life magazine illustration was scanned from the 1956 book Predictions: Pictorial Predictions From the Past by John Durant. Photo of a "supergraphic" in disrepair in downtown Los Angeles by Eric Richardson, used under its Creative Commons license.]
March 28, 2012
Remember milkmen? Yeah, neither do I.
In 2007, I moved into an apartment building in St. Paul that was built during the early 1920s. I remember asking the building manager what the small, two-foot tall doors attached to the outside of each apartment were for. The doors had long been painted shut and no longer opened to the inside of the apartments, as it looked like they should. The manager explained that the doors were used decades ago by milkmen who would make deliveries during the day while people were at work.
In the 1920s virtually all milk consumed in the United States was delivered directly to the home. By the early 1970s, it was only about 15%. By the 1990s, it was less than 1%. Whither the man of milk?
There were many things that contributed to the demise of the American milkman: the rise of electric home refrigerators meant that frequent delivery of fresh products were unnecessary; the emergence of the supermarket as a one-stop-shop meant it was just as convenient to buy milk at the store as having it delivered; and the increase in automobile ownership after WWII meant that getting to the supermarket was now easier than ever. But arguably, the most important factor was the suburbanization of America.
After World War II, many young families moved to the suburbs, which made it more difficult for milkmen to deliver milk efficiently. As the milkman’s customers spread out, he would need to spend more time driving his truck between deliveries, which increased his costs. As the milkman’s expenses increased he was forced to raise prices on his products, which caused families to just tack on milk (and other dairy products that the milkman delivered) to their supermarket grocery lists.
Perhaps a mechanical assistant would have simplified the task of delivering milk in the suburbs? The August 6, 1961 edition of Arthur Radebaugh‘s Sunday comic strip “Closer Than We Think” imagined the milkman of the future, with an automatic robot helper at his heels. This anachronism of the retrofuture, as it were, is referred to as an “electronic dobbin.” The word “dobbin” means a horse that’s used for physically demanding tasks and is used in the comic strip to draw comparisons to the milkmen of the past.
When yesterday’s milkman walked between houses, his horse would quietly keep pace with him on the street. The Dobbin of tomorrow’s milkman will follow along in the same way — thanks to electronics.
The devices that control today’s missiles — in far simpler form — will make it possible for the milkman to drive his truck from inside or out, wherever he happens to be. A small set of buttons will actuate the radio-tuned steering and movement of the vehicle. And maybe those buttons themselves will give way before long to the “unicontrol” being developed in Detroit — a single lever that controls speed, direction and braking alike — intended for passenger cars less than a decade away.
If you’d like to read more about the decline of the milkman I’d suggest finding a 1972 paper by Odis E. Bigus titled, ”The Milkman and His Customer: A Cultivated Relationship,” which was originally published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. If you’d like to read more about Arthur Radebaugh, I wrote a short piece about him for the April, 2012 issue of Smithsonian.