Lobsters Stuffed With Tacos

A Hero's Journey Through Science Fiction

(With a falsetto please…) “In The Year Two-Thousand….!”

In 1910 French illustrator Villemard created a series of pictures that imagined the year 2000. Here are a few. For the entire collection, go here. Let us proceed:

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While it’s true airplanes were up and running by 1910, winged craft were limited to experimental machines that had little power or distance to carry more than three passengers, as would any ocean going vessel, car, or horse-drawn carriage of the day. The romanticism of en masse leisure travel over great distances still lay in the lighter-than-air dirigibles that Germany popularized a few decades later– Uh… Does anyone smell something burning?

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It’s no wonder that as flying became the standard in the 1910s that wings would trump rockets in the imagination of the time, much the way physics and aerodynamics would eventually trump Villemard’s imagination.

As a side note: Is anyone seeing here Truffaut’s 1966 film Fahrenheit 451? Look closely. If you lose the wings and give ’em jet packs, the uniforms–down to the helmets–will match those worn by the firemen in the film. Right? (Hey Montag! Check that baby’s britches for copies of Peter and Wendy!)

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Dating back a few thousand years the earliest batteries produced electricity for the sole purpose of…well, just producing an electrical shock for sophomoric amusement and base religious practices. It wasn’t until the industrial age when folks needed electricity to actually power something needful that a battery with efficient storage came into fruition.

Today, Hammacher Schlemmer uses lithium-ion batteries to haul 180 pound riders up to speeds of 8 mph on electric skates for an entire 40 minutes at full power. Warning to Americans: We’re not sure how fast these skates will carry you at twice that weight. If at all.

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This is a video phone as imagined through a telegraph device, but even this could not be done through the technology of the day. After significant discoveries in the 1920s regarding television technology, videotelephony would not actually be publicly demonstrated until the 1930s by American and German scientists.

The Machine Stops (1909) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) were only two of hundreds of movies and literary fiction to depict videophone technology. Today there are numerous technologies for mere children to yak face-to-face with their friends, be they thousands of miles apart. Such video conferencing apps are so commonplace and numerous I could just easily make up a random name and in a few months some app-happy techie will invent a service with that name. Allow me to demonstrate. Uh…Skype! Just wait. You’ll see it for download in a few months.

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Audio books. Really. But in 1910 it seemed only natural that in a dominant agrarian culture such a machine would have to thresh the books to distill their essence. Until you can actually go Johnny Mnemonic and have the book inserted in your brain, you’ll just have to get John Lithgow to narrate Yertle the Turtle for you. Oh so totally worth it.

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This gentleman is receiving a snail mail audio file on a phonograph wax cylinder to play on his phonograph player. No doubt he’s kicking off his Columbia House records club with his first installment of The White Album. For the price of only a single “sous” he can enjoy Al Jolson singing Rocky Raccoon.

“And now somewhere…somewhere in those black mountain hills…of that old Dakota hills…there lived a young boy….a boy named a-Rocky a-Raccoooooon-ah!”

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Automated clothing factory. Material goes in one end, out comes a coat. Woody Allen did this in his 1973 sci-fi comedy Sleeper. He stood behind a scanner that took in his dimensions, and after a few pressed buttons–and a peal resembling a pinball machine, out came his jacket. All of this was of course hilariously orchestrated by two old Jewish robots who bicker and whine as if they hailed from the garment district.

Woody (noting the oversized jacket): This is terrible.

Robot: Alright, alright. We’ll take it in…

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I’m not sure what Villemard saw here. Is this a comment on the optimism of the future or is he being sarcastic about our eventual immersion into decadence and hedonism? (Or are they just being French?) And surely a head-on collision in this contraption is going to send you or the propeller into one another. No thanks. I’d just as soon cut myself shaving with a lightsaber.

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Starsky & Hutch? Dukes of Hazzard? Nope. It’s NRA NASCAR. Boy, does Villemard have us pegged.

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One thought on “(With a falsetto please…) “In The Year Two-Thousand….!”

  1. jabbermuser on said:

    Awesome stuff. At his time, technology might have appeared to be booming. But, compared with our current rate of advancement, it actually appears sluggish and elementary or basic. His illustrations reflect only the existing technologies, just applied in creative ways. (I’m not saying I believe they had wearable wings back then, just that the concept of the wing was already present.) We might find that the same phenomenon will apply in ten years when we look back to today. We tend to simply project embellished versions of the present when we consider the future, and developments toward things like quantum computing and graphene applications often take us by surprise.
    Thanks for the post.

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