May 15, 2012
The Kids’ Whole Future Catalog touted itself as “a book about your future.” This 1982 book promised kids a peek into a coming era of automatic language translators, cities floating on the ocean and robot teachers. It also told kids about the kinds of jobs they’d have 30 years into the future. Well, 30 years have passed and it seems like as good a time as any to look back at their predictions.
Some of the predictions about which jobs would become obsolete are remarkably prescient. One of the predictions involves travel agents and stockbrokers, who are predicted to become scarce thanks to the home computer which allows people to make their own airline reservations and check stock prices. There’s even a prediction about jobs at the post office disappearing, as more and more people send mail through the computer.
What kind of job will you be working at 30 years from now? Do you expect to be programming computers or delivering mail? Can you imagine yourself as a stockbroker or a travel agent? Don’t be surprised if you end up in a totally different kind of career than the one you’re thinking of right now. In 30 years, some of today’s jobs may no longer exist. The computer will eliminate many of them. As more and more people send mail by computer, jobs at the post office will disappear. Stockbrokers’ and travel agents’ jobs may also become scarce. Instead of calling these experts, people will use their own home computers to check stock prices and make airline reservations. Today, computer programmers are in great demand, but in 30 years, they might not be. By then, many computers will be able to program themselves.
But don’t worry about find a future career. Although some kinds of work will no longer be available, new job opportunities will open up— in space industries, genetic engineering, undersea mining—maybe even robot psychology! Thirty years from now, you may be working at a job we can’t even imagine today.
Of all the job listings, one in particular stuck out to me. The “history research position” pretty accurately sums up my current occupation:
HISTORY RESEARCH POSITION AVAILABLE. Are you interested in what written communication was like back in the 20th century? Extensive computer work involved. Weekly reassignment, flexhours, and personally tailored workload. Zip your resume to WHATWAS CORP., 4V19*D458S
Another possible occupation of the future was a “genetic engineer” who would work on breeding animals that could survive in space. I’m not sure what a “girax” is. Any guesses?
GENETIC ENGINEER WANTED to develop space-sturdy strains of cows, goats, and giraxes. High zero-g tolerance, degree in animal genetics required; training in trans-species communication desirable. Top salary. Reply to SPECIAL SPECIES CONGLOMERATE, R20*H520##
The space theme continued with more listings for jobs in space, even with a new version of the cruise ship comedian: the space colony actor.
ACTORS/ACTRESSES. Be a star among the stars! Sing and dance on stages throughout the galaxy! The UP AND AWAY THEATER has bookings at Moon Base II and all the major space colonies. Zip your video tape to Minerva White, Director. 46X8N06*
IS EARTH GETTING TOO CROWDED FOR YOU? New Frontiers, Inc. is currently listing thousands of job opportunities in space. Registration information from TY**039##4
SHUTTLE PILOTS. Universal Airlines need experienced shuttle pilots for its regularly scheduled weekend flights between Earth and the moon. All positions involve job-sharing. If you have logged a minimum of 1,000 hours in space and are looking for a steady, secure position, zip your resume to *47WXH7824
CHEFS needed for space hotel. To specialize in insect cookery. Top salary plus time-in-space bonus pay. Free transportation to and from Earth. Zip your resume to Earth Headquarters, SPACE-OUT INNS, J207*1P26V
It was fairly common for Americans of the 20th century to expect that life expectancy would continue to climb indefinitely —and with good reason! Life expectancy in the year 1900 was just 49.2 years of age (47.9 for males, 50.7 for females), but by 1980 that number had climbed to 73.9 (70.1 for males, 77.6 for females). In 2012 that number is about 78.
CENTURIAN EMPLOYMENT COUNSELOR. Would you like to specialize in the employment needs of persons over 100? High-level job search skills necessary. Top pay, liberal time off benefits. Contact Lyn, CENTURY EMPLOYMENT, *193B8*G26
APPRENTICE HERBOLOGIST. Work with an experienced herbologist. Learn to prescribe herbal remedies for common diseases. Biology or botany degree desirable. Inquire UW480*2XN6
NASAL TECHNOLOGIST needed to develop and test mood-creating products for home and industrial use. Biochemistry degree with smell specialty required. Send resume to the NEW OL-FACTORY, INC. 41*WD570B60
Some of the jobs even included “your own personal robot”:
ROBOT RELATIONS. Interviewer needed to design or match personal robots to the needs and desires of human customers. Four years experience with robots, psychology degree, and high-level communication skills necessary. Your own personal robot included. Inquire MECHAN PALS INC., 5K2*1B8*NV2
PEACE ANALYSTS. We need two members for the Earth Food Distribution Committee. Varied cultural and dietary background required, plus creativity and communication skills.
FOAM HOME PHONE SALES. Do you transmit with style? Job involves computer chats with people all over the globe. We will train. Send video tape and resume to XANA-DOME, INC., K904022**5
February 15, 2012
Where were newlyweds supposed to honeymoon in the future? The moon, of course.
Honeymoons on the moon show up in popular culture throughout the 1950s and 60s, in everything from songs to comic strips. The June 1, 1958 edition of the Sunday comic strip “Closer Than We Think” by Arthur Radebaugh claimed that it would be the new default destination for lovebirds, replacing the cliched honeymoon spot, Niagara Falls:
Scenic spots on the moon, in years ahead, may become honeymoon havens, like Niagara Falls today. Newly wedded couples will be able to fly to a low-cost lunar holiday in a space craft propelled by thermo-nuclear energy. Space expert Wernher von Braun foresees pressurized, air-conditioned excursion hotels and small cottages on the moon. Couples could dance gaily there, whirling high in the air due to reduced gravity pull, and look out on a strange, spectacular scenery — part of which would be a spaceman’s view of the familiar outlines of the continents of the earth.
Father Andrzejewski, a priest in a small Wisconsin town, spoke to a group of Girl Scouts in 1962 about the 50th anniversary of the Scouts organization and said, “What looked difficult 50 years ago, is now commonplace, and only these last few weeks do we realize that perhaps one of the Brownies here today might spend her honeymoon on the moon.”
Father Andrzejewski’s reference to “these last few weeks” was about John Glenn who, on February 20, 1962, became the first American to orbit the earth. With each new advance made in space, it seemed ever more inevitable that average citizens would soon be visiting the moon — even for their honeymoon.
The October 21, 1966 Sandusky Register in Ohio ran a short piece in the Opinion section about honeymoons on the moon, with an admittedly odd kicker:
Young ladies who expect the moon when they get married may one day have their wish. Astronomer Fred Whipple predicts that in the not too distant future trips to the moon will replace the traditional journey to Niagara Falls.
Just how soon is anybody’s guess. Dr. Eugene Konneci of the National Aeronautics and Space Council thinks spaceships might be book passengers around the year 2001. But he says ticket prices will probably be figured according to the traveler’s weight — at about $10 a pound.
If so, that old 20th century saying that nobody loves a fat girl will be even truer in the 21st. At least, those who do will think twice before proposing a honeymoon on the moon.
In 1964 the comic strip “Dick Tracy” had a young couple visit the moon for their honeymoon.
Though newlyweds aren’t rocketing off to the moon just yet, we continue to see private space tourism as a promise that awaits us just around the corner.
February 1, 2012
In 1950, the Hayden Planetarium promoted its new exhibit, “Conquest of Space,” by soliciting letters for the public to reserve a seat on the first trip into space. The letters all make for an entertaining read, but one in particular stuck out for me. A letter from a man named Arthur described how he’d like to travel to Venus to find out for himself if there really are dinosaurs there.
I would like to submit my name for an application for a space trip to Venus. I have always been interested in this planet, and would like to find out for myself if there are really dinosaurs living on it. Ancient animals have been a constant source of interest with me, and, providing the theory is correct, I would be thrilled to see a tyranosaurus or a brontosaurus “in the flesh.” Astronomy also holds a place of honor among my pastimes, and the urge to travel beyond the earth has always been in me.
Dinosaurs? On Venus? Where would Arthur get such an idea? There have been a number of science fiction stories set on Venus, but it seems plausible that he got the idea of a dinosaur-filled planet from a futuristic story in the March 1950 issue of Coronet magazine, called “Mr Smith Goes to Venus.”
The story (which strangely doesn’t credit any writer) tells of a family in the year 2500 who take a vacation on the planet Venus. The introduction explains that the harnessing of atomic energy just might hold the key to universal peace and travel to distant planets.
Today, the world stands on the threshold of the Atomic Age. Many people fear that the dazzling new power may bring the most destructive wars in history. In this mid-century year of 1950, weapons are still far in advance of other developments within the infinitely complex world of the atom. However, for the many who believe that atomic power can be the key to man’s most magnificent achievements, this story will have special meaning as a glimpse into the future — a glimpse into an age when the atom may mean universal peace — and a vacation to Venus for the neighbors next door.
What’s interesting to remember is that when this story was published in 1950, commercial airplane travel in the United States was still in its infancy. Most families had never been on a plane, let alone a rocket to Venus.
The story included an illustration of brochures from the future touting “big game hunting” on Venus. A mid-century style raygun is seen pointing down at a triceratops. But dinosaurs weren’t just to be hunted for sport. They would also be found in zoos on Venus:
The Venopolis Zoo was one of the most fabulous attractions of Venus. Deep pits separated visitors from the lumbering dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts. Still, Mrs. Smith was uncomfortable being so close to the dragonlike creatures, and breathed easily again only when they had moved on to the amazing exhibits of brilliantly plumaged birds, and to the smaller animal enclosures. The children were disappointed that there was no Reptile House, but so far no serpents had been found on Venus.
Chesley Bonestell did the illustrations– 25 pages worth — for the story. Bonestell was a prolific artist who is credited with helping fuel American interest in space exploration with his incredibly captivating space art. Perhaps most notably, he did illustrations for Wernher von Braun’s 1950s Collier’s series which laid out the possibilities of spaceflight.
January 27, 2012
When Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus met President Kennedy in 1962, JFK told him, “The only science I ever learned was from your comic strip in the Boston Globe.”
The comic strip that Kennedy was referring to was called “Our New Age” and ran in about 110 Sunday newspapers all around the world from 1958 until 1975. Much like Arthur Radebaugh‘s mid-century futurism comic “Closer Than We Think,” which ran from 1958 until 1963, “Our New Age” was a shining example of techno-utopian idealism. Not all of the strips were futuristic, but they all had that particular brand of optimism that so characterized postwar American thinking about science and technology.
Each week the strip had a different theme, illustrating a scientific principle or advancement in an easily digestible way. Some of the strips tackled straightforward scientific topics like meteors and volcanoes, while others explained the latest scientific developments in synthetic fibers, space travel and lasers. The strip seemed to say that the building blocks of the future were laid out before us, we just had to build it.
Athelstan Spilhaus wrote “Our New Age” from its inception until 1973, but it went through three different illustrators: first Earl Cros, then E.C. Felton, then Gene Fawcette. I have a strip from 1975 (when Fawcette is still credited as the illustrator) but after Spilhaus stopped doing the strip in 1973 the identity of the writer was unclear.
As Spilhaus tells it, he was inspired to start the comic strip in October of 1957 after the Soviets launched Sputnik — the first human-made satellite — into space. He was concerned that American kids weren’t showing enough interest in science and technology. “Rather than fight my own kids reading the funnies, which is a stupid thing to do, I decided to put something good into the comics, something that was more fun and that might give a little subliminal education,” he said.
“Our New Age” had an enormous audience almost immediately. A 1959 article in Time magazine noted that the strip appeared in 102 U.S. and 19 foreign newspapers.
Athelstan Spilhaus was a flamboyant and remarkable futurist who led quite an extraordinary life. He was the first Unesco ambassador to the UN, started the National Sea Grant Program, was the inventor of the bathythermograph, was involved with the infamous “Roswell incident” when his Project Mogul weather balloons crashed, and even tried to get an experimental city built in Minnesota with Buckminster Fuller. The Minnesota Experimental City (MXC) never got off the ground for a number of reasons, not least of which because Spilhaus and Fuller had some major disagreements about the project.
During the majority of the time that he was writing “Our New Age,” Dr. Spilhaus was the dean of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Technology. While in Minnesota, Spilhaus became good friends with another under-appreciated futurist thinker, journalist Victor Cohn. People were constantly asking Spilhaus, a jet-set man who had his hand in everything, how he could be involved in so many seemingly disparate projects. He told his friend Victor, “…I don’t do ‘so many things.’ I do one. I think about the future.”
Sharon Moen at the University of Minnesota is currently writing a book about Spilhaus, due out this fall. I spoke with her on the phone.
Having been born and raised in Minnesota, I was personally interested to hear that Spilhaus was involved in the creation of the skyway system in Minneapolis and St. Paul. (The skyway system is a sort of a 2nd floor human habitrail that links many of the buildings downtown and allows pedestrians to stay indoors during the winters, rather than brave the cold at street level.) Skyways had been tried in other cities, though not on such a large scale as Spilhaus had envisioned. “Athelstan had a lot of big ideas. And one of the things that he was amazing at was taking ideas and re-applying them,” Moen told me.
Kennedy named Spilhaus the U.S. commissioner to the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Moen told me that an early idea for the fair’s theme (before Spilhaus was brought on board) involved a “wild west” motif. But just as Sputnik had inspired Spilhaus to start writing “Our New Age,” it seems the space race had pushed the Seattle Fair into a showcase for American futurism.
Moen explained to me how important the Seattle World’s Fair (not to mention the later fairs he consulted on) were to Spilhaus: “A lot of his thinking was solidified at the World’s Fair. It’s what got him into what cities could be and recycling and farming oceans. He was really excited about the future.”
The December, 1971 issue of Smithsonian magazine published a profile on Dr. Spilhaus and mentioned that some weren’t so pleased that a distinguished academic was writing Sunday comic strips. The articles notes that his writing “Our New Age” was, “thought by some an undignified avocation.”
Dignified or not, there’s no question that influencing an American president, and reaching a worldwide audience with a message promoting science was no small feat. Spilhaus himself responded to the academics who questioned his supposedly undignified side project: “Which of you has a class of five million every Sunday morning?”