The future of France

Tags: real world

The Washington Post just reprinted a set of century-old illustrations of French life imagining in the year 2000. One of the fantasies here is as common now as it was then, but the other …

The WP writer finds it strange that there are so many underwater scenes, perhaps because those of us who aren't James Cameron don't give much thought to deep-sea exploration nowadays. But 1900 was right in the middle of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, and the deep oceans were finally being explored as well. Humans were risking their lives to bring back information about the remotest part of the planet for the first time. Domesticating them so much that you might spend your vacation in the Marinaras Trench must've seemed like a natural outcome.

That's the uncommon fantasy. What's the common one?

There are numerous pictures of automata performing various jobs – but the person who did that job in 1900 is always shown controlling the automaton. Maids, farmers, and teachers push buttons and sit back as machines do their work for them.

A failure of imagination? Perhaps. But those photos were sold as postcards – the artists were creating an escapist fantasy, not an exacting model. Imagining a world where you can sit back and watch a machine do your job is fun. Imagining a world where there's no use for you because a machine does your job … not so much.

Written on October 15, 2015