March 18, 2013
Many of us here in the 21st century like to think of the newspaper as this static institution. We imagine that the newspaper was born many generations ago and until very recently, thrived without much competition. Of course this is wildly untrue. The role of the newspaper in any given community has always been in flux. And the form that the newspaper of the future would take has often been uncertain.
In the 1920s it was radio that was supposed to kill the newspaper. Then it was TV news. Then it was the Internet. The newspaper has evolved and adapted (remember when TV news killed the evening edition newspaper?) and will continue to evolve for many decades to come.
Visions of what newspapers might look like in the future have been varied throughout the 20th century. Sometimes they’ve taken the form of a piece of paper that you print at home, delivered via satellite or radio waves. Other times it’s a multimedia product that lives on your tablet or TV. Today we’re taking a look at just a few of the newspapers from the futures that never were.
Knight Ridder’s Newspaper Tablet (1994)
The newspaper tablet of the future was demonstrated in a 1994 concept video released by Knight Ridder. I found the video over at the Open Video Project back in 2007 and wrote a short blog post about it. I’m sure glad I didn’t make any snarky comments about how this whole tablet thing was never going to happen because as we know, the iPad would emerge less than three years later.
Back in 2011, a judge in the Apple vs. Samsung patent battle made note of this video as possible prior art which could invalidate some of Apple’s iPad patents. However, last year an appeals court found that the Knight Ridder concept tablet couldn’t be considered prior art and that Apple’s patent claims were significantly different enough.
From the Knight Ridder video:
Let’s take a closer look at the Information Design Lab’s vision of the electronic newspaper of the future. On first glance, it looks just like a printed newspaper. In fact, you can browse stories and turn pages just as you would on paper. But if a story interests you, you can read it more deeply. Suppose this story about Bosnia catches your attention. Just touch the text and the full story appears. What you read is no longer limited to the physical constraints of the printing press and production process. A story is edited for content and completeness, not for newshole.
And the tablet newspaper extends communication beyond the written word. Touch the map and it comes alive, using the tools of sound and animation to tell the story.
Philco-Ford’s Newspaper Printer (1967)
We recently looked at an episode of the CBS show “The 21st Century,” hosted by Walter Cronkite titled, “At Home, 2001.” Originally airing on March 12, 1967, the show took viewers of the late 1960s to the futuristic world of the year 2001. In the future, news would be delivered by a satellite feed and stories could be printed out at the touch of a button.
This console provides a summary of news relayed by satellite from all over the world. Now to get a newspaper copy for permanent reference I just turn this button, and out it comes. When I’ve finished catching up on the news I might check the latest weather. This same screen can give me the latest report on the stocks I might own.
You might recognize this newspaper printer from another concept video from 1967 by Philco-Ford called 1999 A.D.
Back to the Future II (1989)
In Back to the Future II‘s futuristic world of 2015 they have hoverboards, flying cars and instant-dry jackets. But the newspaper’s physical presence looks pretty identical to that of 1989. The form and function hasn’t changed, but futurist jokes about everything unhealthy being good for you (think steak being healthy in Woody Allen’s Sleeper) is shown with this below the fold headline: “Cholesterol May Be Cancer Cure.”
RCA’s Newspapers by Radio (1930s, ’40s)
In the 1930s and ’40s a surprisingly large number of newspapers and broadcasters (sometimes owned by the same company) were experimenting with newspaper delivery by radiowaves. The idea was that unused radio spectrum could be licensed to deliver newspapers at night via “radio facsimile.” These “radio faxpapers” would be printed in the home while everyone was sleeping. The family would wake up to a freshly printed newspaper without a paperboy ever having to get his hands stained with ink.
Minority Report (2002)
The newspaper in the 2002 film Minority Report seems to have the size and flexibility of a printed newspaper, but the technological advancement of a web-connected device. Once John Anderton’s (Tom Cruise) becomes a fugitive of pre-crime justice we see a newspaper on public transit that’s interrupted with an animated breaking news special report.
My favorite headline from that newspaper is in the upper right corner of the screen: “$30 Billion approved.” For what, we’re not sure. But you can rest assured that $30 billion has been approved for something somewhere.
L.A. Times Laserjet Printed Newspaper (1988)
The April 3, 1988 issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine was dedicated to what Los Angeles might look like in the year 2013. Their predictions included art by Syd Mead and plenty of what you’d expect from late-1980s futurism: fingerprint verification at the ATM, computers in the classroom, smart appliances, and plenty of household robots. The prediction about what the newspaper of the future might look like included printed copy delivered electronically to you by way of the personal computer:
With a barely perceptible click, the Morrow house turns itself on, as it has every morning since the family had it retrofitted with the Smart House system of wiring five years ago. Within seconds, warm air whooshes out of heating ducts in the three bedrooms, while the water heater checks to make sure there’s plenty of hot water. In the kitchen, the coffee maker begins dripping at the same time the oven switches itself on to bake a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls. Next door in the study, the family’s personalized home newspaper, featuring articles on the subjects that interest them, such as financial news and stories about their community, is being printed by laser-jet printer off the home computer — all while the family sleeps.
Jetson’s Televiewer (1962)
In the third episode of “The Jetsons” George sits down to read the newspaper on his Televiewer device. As we’ve seen with videophones in the Jetsons universe, there’s not a lot of consistency around what the various devices are capable of doing. Sometimes a given console will appear to be dedicated to one task (as is often the case with their videophones) but here George appears to be reading on a more generic device that we can assume might also handle broadcast TV.
Pneumatic Tube Delivery (1900)
As we’ve seen in our examination of the midcentury animated TV show “The Jetsons,” the pneumatic tube was thought to be the wave of the future, being installed as a way to deliver goods (and people!) right into our homes. The newspaper may still be of the deadtree variety, but according to the December 24, 1900 issue of the Boston Globe Bostonians of the future would have their paper delivered each morning by tube.
The pneumatic tube service, by the way, will have reached its perfection long before the first half of the new century has flown. It will have become a most important factor in the domestic life of the people which also will have undergone great changes.
Through such tubes a householder will undoubtedly receive his letters, his readymade lunches, his laundry, his morning and evening paper, and even the things he may require from the department store, which will furnish at the touch of a button any essential solid or liquid that can be named.
Blade Runner (1982)
In the 1982 neo-noir film Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott, we see the protagonist Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) reading a newspaper. The film takes place in the year 2019, but the newspaper looks like it would be right at home in 1982. That is, except for the content. The newspaper headline is difficult to make out, but according to Blade Runner messageboards the headline probably reads: “Farming the Oceans, the Moon, and Antarctica.”
National Newspaper (1900)
At the turn of the 20th century, newspapers were incredibly local. There was no such thing as a nationally focused newspaper like USA Today. But in the December 26, 1900 issue of the New York World, Alfred Harmsworth, the editor of the London Daily Mail, predicted that there would soon be national newspapers.
We are entering the century of combination and centralization. I feel certain that the newspaper of the twentieth century will be drawn into the vortex of combination and centralization. In fact, given the man, the capital, the organization and the occasion, there seems to be no reason why one or two newspapers may not presently dominate great sections of the United States, or almost the whole of Great Britain. In other words, where there are now a multitude of papers — good, bad and indifferent — there will be then one or two great journals.
Neon Newsboy (1937)
Today the street corner newsboy may be relegated to cartoon cliches about young newsies screaming “EXTRA! EXTRA!” all around town to announce breaking news, but back in 1937 newsboys in Philadelphia were outfitted with the wave of the future: neon signs. From the April, 1937 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine:
Newsboys in Philadelphia wear neon signs that flash across their chests the name of the paper they represent. The neon lamp not only has a strong advertising appeal, making it easy to “spot” a newsboy on a crowded street at night, but it protects the boy selling paper in automobile traffic. To be practical, the chest lamp had to be shockproof and operate on a portable battery. The name of the newspaper is made of a single continuous tube of glass, its base imbedded in a plastic substance which protects the tube from shock and breakage. The neon is activated by a battery which gives forty-eight hours service on one cell. A small vibrator changes the direct current to alternating current and a transformer steps up its voltage. Battery, vibrator and transformer are carried in the boy’s apron.
March 14, 2013
This is the 21st in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The 21st episode of “The Jetsons” originally aired on February 17, 1963 and was titled “TV or Not TV.”
Much like both “Elroy’s Pal,” and “Elroy’s TV Show,” this episode ostensibly gives viewers another look behind the scenes of television production. George and Astro are involved in a misunderstanding (isn’t that always the way?) where they think they’ve witnessed a robbery. In fact, it was just a TV shoot for “Naked Planet,” a spoof on the late 1950s ABC show “Naked City.” Thinking that mobsters want to snuff him out, George goes into hiding with Astro at Mr. Spacely’s vacation home in the woods.
That vacation home – Mr. Spacely’s “old fishing cabin” — is one of my favorite examples of Jetsonian architecture. Probably because the building bears a striking resemblance to the villain Vandamm ‘s hide-out in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 film North By Northwest.
Sadly, the home in North by Northwest is not a real house that you can visit, but was instead built on an MGM set.
Both the Jetsons version and the Hitchcock version have the signature of midcentury hyper-modernism or, as it came to be known, Googie: dramatic sloping roofs, plenty of glass, steel, maybe a little plastic, and some stone when you wanted a touch of that comfortable earthy flair.
Danny Graydon, author of The Jetsons: The Official Guide to the Cartoon Classic, has deemed the look “mid-21st century modern” — a play on the term “midcentury modern,” back when the century in question happened to be the 20th.
The architecture from “The Jetsons” clearly takes cues from architects who worked in the midcentury modern/Googie style, like John Lautner and Oscar Niemeyer. Jetsonian architecture also seems to draw from the work of Charles Schridde in his series of ads for Motorola in the early 1960s which ran in the Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine.
But as I pointed out in my post about Googie architecture from last year, the artists and animators working on “The Jetsons” didn’t really need to leave their own backyards for inspiration. The Hanna-Barbera Studio which produced “The Jetsons” was in Hollywood and in the late 1950s and early 1960s buildings all across Los Angeles had that mid-20th century modern look that would become identified as Jetsonian.
The people working at Hanna-Barbera could find inspiration at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland in Anaheim, dozens of Googie coffee shops in Southern California, and maybe the most iconic Googie building in L.A. (if only for its visibility to tourists), the Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport.
Another building which clearly inspired the architecture of the Jetsons universe was the Chemosphere. Designed by John Lautner and built in 1960, the home looks like it could take off into the sky like a flying saucer at any moment. The Chemosphere sits in the Hollywood Hills and has been an incredibly popular shooting location for films and TV shows that need a futuristic feel — including a 1964 episode of “The Outer Limits” set in the 21st century.
The architecture of the Jetsons is a reflection of the future, but even more so a reflection of that late-1950s and early 1960s Space Age design we so associate with the golden age of futurism. Well, someone’s golden age.
And just as we’ve seen mention of the Jetsons become a kind of shorthand way to talk about the technology of past futures, so too has “that Jetsons look” eclipsed Googie as the descriptor of choice for people talking about architecture from the futures that never were. People may think you’re saying Google, when you mean Googie. But fifty years after its debut, there’s no mistaking the Jetsons landscape.
February 27, 2013
The February 1989 issue of Life magazine predicted that, by the year 2000, many staples of modern American life might find themselves on the scrapheap of history. Life predicted that by the year 2000 people would need to say goodbye to everything from film (pretty much) to all-male clergy in the Catholic church (not so much).
Bid ta-ta to LPs, fur coats and sugar. Toodle-oo to checkbooks, oil and swimming in the ocean. Happy trails to privacy, porno theaters and who knows, maybe even Democrats. It’s not just animals and vegetation that are departing the planet (currently one species every 15 minutes). With them goes, for better or worse, any number of the tangibles and intangibles now taken for granted. Gathered here are the contents of an as-yet-unburied time capsule dedicated to impending obsolescence. So should auld acquaintance be forgot…
The predictions are especially interesting in that they were made shortly before the birth of the modern web and the mid-1990s flood of non-tech types getting online. What then will bring about the decline of the mailman? The magazine insists that it’s not email, but the fax machine.
A few of the things that Life said you’d “Say goodbye to…”
The Red Cent
“The extinction of penny candy along with the high cost of copper have made the life expectancy of this coin not worth a plugged nickel.”
On February 4, Canada stopped putting their penny into circulation. They joined the likes of Australia, Norway and Sweden among others, but there’s no indication that Americans will be rid of Lincoln’s copper face anytime soon.
Water from faucets
“Play taps for this kind of H2O, which pollution will make unfit to drink.”
Bottled water is a $22 billion industry, with many people believing that it’s safer than tap water. But given the 1.5 million tons of plastic used to make those disposable bottles, it’s taking quite a toll on the environment.
“Using microchips, proud grandparents threaten to store thousands of images on portable show-and-tell miniscreens.”
Life‘s prediction about the death of film was pretty spot-on. The interesting detail that they missed: those “portable show-and-tell miniscreens” would also be know as phones.
“Fed up with C rations, Americans want fresh food. No word yet from the nation’s pampered pets.”
Here in the 21st century, farmer’s markets and fresh produce are more in vogue than meal pills and canned food. But what are we supposed to stock our zombie apocalypse bunkers with?
“A database owned by the phone company will feed every home with 5,000-plus movies — some worth watching — via optical fibers.”
Sure, your local video store may be shuttered, and you may even watch movies on your phone, but it’s not just the phone company that’s controlling the vast database of content you’re watching. Netflix, Redbox and iTunes have been absolutely devastating the business of Blockbusters everywhere.
“Invest your money in diaper services because the environment is crying for a change.”
The disposable diaper industry has shown no signs of slowing down in the 21st century, with about 3.6 million tons of diapers dumped into American landfills each year, making up about 2.1% of municipal waste.
“Not snow nor rain nor sleet stays these couriers, but the fax will.”
With the end of Saturday postal service coming this August, there’s no question that the USPS is struggling. But it certainly wasn’t the fax machine that made deadtree letters an endangered species. The people who knew what electronic mail was in 1989 were few and far between.
“Say ahh. Fluoridation and good oral hygiene will root out cavities.”
While oral hygiene has improved over the course of the last century, you’d be mistaken if you think it’s because fewer people are going to the dentist.
“The handwriting is on the wall. For security, we’ll no longer sign checks and documents. Instead fingerprints, read by an electronic eye, will serve as ID.”
We certainly seem to be moving in this direction, but you’re likely still scribbling your John Hancock on everything from credit card receipts to digital FedEx package scanners.
Plugs and Switches
“Voice-activated appliances and electronics with self-contained energy sources will be set to play from the word go.”
Nothing says late 20th century futurism quite like voice-activated control of everything. But until Siri and her robot friends work out the bugs (and maybe we feel less stupid shouting at our machines), it has quite a ways to go before it becomes a ubiquitous technology.
“Competition from cable and entertainment systems catering to highly individual tastes may deliver a TKO to television’s Big Three.”
The Big Three television networks have seen a decreasing market share since 1989, but they’re certainly alive and kicking here in the 21st century as they still have some of the largest budget shows and still host many of the live events (Academy Awards, Super Bowl) that are impervious to time shifting.
“As capitalist tools shore up the state, the U.S.S.R. will retire Lenin.”
The fall of the Berlin Wall wouldn’t happen until November of that year, though it’d be hard to call Communism in the 21st century completely dead. But even China’s Communist Party—though still 80 million members strong—has embraced its own version of quasi-capitalism.
“The lagoon city may be going, going, gondola as water and air pollution erode its functions.”
Venice is still a city, but with scary weather like the flooding this past November there’s no telling how much longer that may be the case.
“Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of this vanishing species.”
Life may not have seen the internet revolution that was just over the horizon, but at least they understood that typewriters were on their way out.
“Plastic cards that open electronic locks (although they work only erratically in today’s hotels) will also show up at the front doors of homes and offices.”
With all the attention being paid recently to the vulnerability of hotel keycards, it’s unlikely many of us will be trusting our front doors to those magnetic strips anytime soon.
“For heaven’s sake, anything can happen, even at the Vatican.”
Pope Benedict XVI delivered his final public address as Pope today, but despite a change of leadership, it’s unlikely the Catholic church will be ordaining women as priests in the near future.
Life had a few hits, and more than a few misses. But in a cruelly ironic twist Life didn’t predict yet another event of the year 2000… its own demise as a monthly magazine.
February 26, 2013
A new nuclear power plant hasn’t been built in the U.S. in over 30 years. But in the 1970s nuclear power was still in many ways a low-emissions dream of the future.
In 1975, nuclear power accounted for about 4 percent of the electrical energy generated in the United States. But some people at that time were predicting that by the dawn of the 21st century, nuclear power might supply over 50 percent of electrical energy needed in this country. (Nuclear power currently produces 19.2 percent of electricity in the U.S.)
In the early 1970s, plans were set into motion which would have seen eight to ten offshore nuclear power plants built by 1999. Each power plant was envisioned to produce 1,150 megawatts of electricity, enough for a city of about 600,000 at the time.
The plan was devised by Offshore Power Systems (OPS), a partnership between Tenneco and Westinghouse. In 1972, a New Jersey utility company contracted with OPS to build an offshore nuclear power plant in Jacksonville, Florida, and tow it to New Jersey. The $1.1 billion contract to build the plant was even signed at sea — aboard a yacht just off the New Jersey coast. The power plants would have been gigantic barges anchored a few miles off the American coastline, starting with Brigantine, New Jersey.
Why build a power plant at sea? Nuclear power plants require a tremendous amount of water for cooling and moving nuclear power plants offshore provides easy access to water without raising the ire of potential protesters on land.
Gordon P. Selfridge’s 1975 paper “Floating Nuclear Power Plants: A Fleet on the Horizon?” notes the concern over access to water:
Since nuclear power plants have a tremendous impact on the surrounding community, problems and confrontations on land have contributed to the impending move offshore. Physically, the plants consume enormous amounts of water for cooling and steam production and emit low-level radiation. With reference to the “once-through” cooling water necessary for the plants’ operation, one study has projected that the demand for such coolant will encompass over fifty percent of the entire runoff from the continental United States in only twenty-five years unless the plants are moved offshore. The possible ecological impact of running half our river water through nuclear power plants has led many to conclude that such plants would be better built in the coastal zone.
News reports from the time indicated that officials expressed a desire to have less of an impact on the environment, which is a more pleasant way to say that it’s probably not good to have half of the nation’s water running through nuclear power plants. Officials were concerned that states friendly to nuclear power (like New Jersey) were running out of vital riverfront property on which to build plants — at least without angering environmental groups. From the September 19, 1972, News Journal in Mansfield, Ohio:
The stated reason for building the offshore power plant was to minimize its impact on the environment, but officials privately admitted that the move to the sea was motivated by the fact that New Jersey may be the first state in the United State to run out of riverfront property for power plants.
“This is the only reason for putting this plant in the ocean,” said Edward C. Raney, a Cornell University biologist and a public service consultant. “It’s the only way to justify the expense of locating at sea.”
But the project met with delay after delay, most stymied by growing public concern over the environmental impact and risk of accidents with nuclear power plants. In 1976, then-candidate for President Jimmy Carter called for a moratorium on new nuclear power plants in the United States. Public opinion was already turning against nuclear power in the mid-1970s but the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979, permanently altered the way that Americans perceived nuclear power.
In 1982, a federal nuclear licensing board gave temporary approval for the OPS program to go through in New Jersey. But by then OPS was barely hobbling along. In 1975, Tenneco had withdrawn from the project leaving just Westinghouse at the helm. And by the early 1980s all of the utility companies with which OPS signed contract had long since cancelled their orders on account of the delays.
Over the next decade OPS began liquidating everything and laying off most of their staff of 1,500 in Jacksonville. In 1990 Westinghouse sold what was then the world’s largest crane — 38 stories tall, and built for $15 million — to a Chinese shipbuilding company for a measly $3 million.
Today, environmentalists who once shunned nuclear power are giving it a second look. But with the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima on March 11, 2011, the world is again concerned about the very real potential for accidents — especially when it comes to shared resources like the ocean.
Selfridge wrote in 1975 (even before Three Mile Island) about the difference between an accident on land and one in the ocean: “A similar accident at sea, however, would have a far more devastating effect. A meltdown at sea would not create its own glazed insulation chamber. The poisonous reactor core would melt through the barge and descend into the hydrosphere where the radioactive core would contaminate thousands of cubic miles of ocean. Some radiation would be released to the atmosphere, the rest would enter the marine food chain. Radioactive contamination of the entire northwest Atlantic food chain for hundreds of years from one meltdown is a conceivable scenario.”
February 25, 2013
This is the 20th in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
“We may take it for granted that every well-equipped business office will be in direct communication, by means of large-calibred pneumatic tubes, with the nearest post-office. And however rapidly and however frequently the trains or airships of the period may travel, the process of making up van loads of mail matter for despatch to remote centres, and redistribution there, is far too clumsy for what commerce will demand a hundred years hence. No doubt the soil of every civilised country will be permeated by vast networks of pneumatic tubes: and all letters and parcels will be thus distributed at a speed hardly credible to-day.”
-T. Baron Russell, A Hundred Years Hence: The Expectations of an Optimist (1905)
In the 20th episode of “The Jetsons” viewers are treated to a diverse mix of the most Jetsonian of technological wonders. The episode, titled “Miss Solar System,” first aired on February 10, 1963 ,and featured a little bit of everything: videophones, 3D-TV, autonomous cleaning robots, moving sidewalks and pneumatic tubes. But unlike the vertical-lift pneumatic tubes we’ve seen in almost every episode of the series thus far, this episode shows a horizontal pneumatic tube system with multiple points of entry and exit.
In the late 19th century pneumatic tubes were starting to be widely used in department stores, banks and stock exchanges, where small packages and notes could be sent over relatively short distances at a rapid pace. This development was reflected in the futurist fiction of the time, like Edward Bellamy’s influential 1888 novel Looking Backward.
The technology even evolved to sometimes include home mail service and on a much larger scale, pneumatic train transportation. But needless to say, unlike the world of “The Jetsons,” the pneumatic tube doesn’t work so well in the real world as a transportation device for a human unprotected from the dangers of the tube itself.
In the Jetsons universe, the pneumatic tube is a high-speed substitute for the elevator, where stepping into the tube instantly transports someone to another floor. But on occasion the movement is lateral, like in the sequence below.
Like virtually every technology we see in The Jetsons, this futuristic idea had origins elsewhere. By the early 1960s, some organizations were touting this idea of sending people through pneumatic tubes. In 1960, the American Petroleum Institute gazed into its crystal ball and made some predictions on “Petroleum’s 2nd Century.” From the February 7, 1960 Hammond Times in Indiana: “The [American Petroleum Institute] cited, as a long-range possibility, the movement of such diverse items as turpentine, fruit juices and milk through pipelines the way petroleum travels today. Even people might be transported the way sales slips and payments are delivered by pneumatic tube in department stores.”
Of course, this human projectile pneumatic tube system has yet to become a reality here in the 21st century.
This episode may be the most Jetsonian of the entire series: while it’s ostensibly about the relationship between Jane and George — the give and take of marriage and how we treat family — each of the dozen or so technologies that viewers are promised are sprinkled about; the future tech masquerading as scenery while they’re in fact the star of the show.