In the words of James Lileks, “nothing ages faster than yesterday’s tomorrow.” I’d have to agree. I came across this link to the Popular Science website, where they have now placed all 137 years worth of issues into a searchable database. If you are a tech junkie, or someone who geeks out on retro-futuristic illustrations, this site is like crack. Warning, you can get sucked in for hours.
We didn’t have Popular Science around the 20 Prospect household growing up. Dad was a Popular Mechanics kind of guy. As an aspiring engineer I used to look forward to flipping through the pages looking for sneak peaks at the latest technologies that would transform our lives by the year 2000. As Lileks is fond of saying, “I’m still waiting for my jetpacks”.
In the “Popular-Mechanix-Modern-Science-Illustrated” genre of magazines, Popular Mechanics was pretty dowdy compared to Pop-Sci and the over the top designs and illustrations on the covers of Modern Mechanix. Or maybe it was just that by the 1970’s and 80’s our vision of the future had become pretty dull. Gone were the wild fantasies of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. In it’s place the post-apocalyptic digital futures of Blade Runner and Neuromancer. Granted, Blade Runner was still pretty freakin’ cool, and a far site better than the ponderous krep we got in the 70’s, like Planet of the Apes and Logan’s Run. Still, the vision of the future that Cyberpunk projected wasn’t any place you wanted to live.
Digital Science fiction leaves me cold. Not like the analog Science fiction of the pre-1960’s world. (I place Star Wars in the Analog world, as it was a throwback to the science fiction serials of the 30’s and 40’s, and really had more in common with the tales of King Arthur than it did with 70’s Sci-Fi.)
So step up to the WABAC machine, and let’s take a tour of Yesterday’s Tomorrow, and mourn the future that never was. I mean really, were jetpacks too much to ask for?
All Magazine Cover Illustrations courtesy of the wonderful Modern Mechanix Blog
For more looks into the future that never was visit Paleo-Future