World of Tomorrow
I FIND myself spending a great deal of thought on the “World of Tomorrow.” In fact, I have visions about it, though I have not yet heard voices. Or at least no genuinely commanding voice.
A typical vision, for example, starts out like this. I find myself wandering in a perfectly wonderful department store. It is full of all the goods of this world, both foreign and domestic, plain and exotic. The store is well run, with plenty of information clerks, escalators, bubble fountains, and quick and courteous service behind the counters. I am conscious of an unlimited charge account.
As I pass through the aisles I notice diplomats in silk hats shopping side by side with peasants “in full skirts and bright blouses.” Everybody understands something of every other person’s language — at least enough to be polite. I wander about for a while and then this great store fades into a supercolossal World’s Fair with fountains and flags and educational exhibits and amusement parks. Everything, of course, is unimaginably new, gay, and modernistic. Note, please, that I said modernistic, not fantastic. The architecture, the lighting, the landscaping— everything fits into a plan. Even the frankfurters and soft drinks are all of the same high. standardized quality. Constant inspection keeps them so, along with everything else on the grounds.
High in a central control tower sits the Master Mind, surrounded by a corps of energetic lieutenants. All about them are switches, telephones, control panels, and electronic devices of every sort. Nothing starts or stops in the whole fair without their knowledge and consent. Even the color of the water in the fountains is changed as they push the little buttons according to the plan. The whole fair is thus run with what the poet calls “a gentle, iron hand.”
In my vision, I asked myself this: Why shouldn’t the World of Tomorrow be a continuous super-colossal World’s Fair? What’s wrong with it? If you can make a comparatively small fair like that run for two years (summers only), why couldn’t you make a really whopping fair run for ten years, or twenty, or indefinitely? Perhaps if you could cook up a fair so enormous that no one could ever see all of it, then you wouldn’t have to worry about its ever stopping. Children could be brought to such a fair, brought back again and again as they grew up, and finally grow old and die without ever having seen all the exhibits or suffered a dull moment. And then there’d be their children and their children’s children.
What’s to prevent this thing from going on year after year? Isn’t the humblest Chinese, the wildest Siberian, the blackest bushman, simply crazy about our stuff— when he can get it? Of course he may not be able to buy a television set right away, but at least he can afford a package of our gum, a comic book, and an aspirin tablet.
And when he’s been to the Big Fair (I almost said our Big Fair, but of course I don’t mean that)—after he’s been to the Big Fair, then, and got himself a streamlined education, he can begin saving up for an automatic pen-and-pencil set, an electric razor, and a portable typewriter. Later on, if he can get together with his pals, he can take home a juke box. After that, the remainder of his progress as a citizen of the New World State should be rapid and easy.
And as long as the Big Fair continues —never lets him down, never fails to come through with something bright and new, never tires or grows cold or old — why should we worry? Does Hollywood worry? Do the radiomen and the ad men worry? Have they ever let us down? No, of course not. So, confidence, my friends. What we have done once, we can do again. What we have done at home, we can do abroad. Somehow, we are all some kind of brothers. If not under the skin, then at least in our earthly appetites. Man the world over loves chewing gum and cola drinks and cigarettes and gadgets. And who makes them better than we? As a matter of fact, who makes them, but us?
Such is my vision of the “World of Tomorrow.” It’s all going to be pretty wonderful, and I expect to learn a lot and get a great kick out of it, as I did at the last World’s Fair. But I also expect an awful headache — the same headache that I got at the last World’s Fair.