Sunday, March 26, 2006
Lost: One EPCOT Center User's Guide
Lost: One EPCOT Center User's Guide.
Last seen: Around 1994, when EPCOT lost its capitalization.
If found, please contact:
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
Pixar Animation Studios
1200 Park Ave.
Emeryville, CA 94608
Imagine that you were given the ownership of one of the most powerful communication tools ever devised. With this tool, you could make millions of people listen to your message and hear it exactly the way you intended. You would have a platform for your vision of the future, and you would be speaking to people who were eager to hear what you had to say.
Now, imagine you lost the instructions.
You had the tool, you just didn’t know how to use it.
Put in this predicament, most of us would probably do everything we could to understand the tool that we had been given. We’d study it, examine it, talk to others who had successfully used it in the past to comprehend how we could effectively wield it and perhaps even make it better.
That’s exactly what happened in the mid-1990s when a new group of Disney executives came to Walt Disney World and turned their attention to EPCOT Center. They didn’t actually lose the “instruction book” – more precisely, they threw it away, eliminating jobs at Walt Disney Imagineering and thereby losing the key to understanding the EPCOT Center concept.
To be fair, they did try to deconstruct EPCOT Center. When I was a kid, I took a phone apart to see what made it ring; once I had taken it apart, I couldn’t put it back together. And that’s what Disney’s theme-park “experts” did. They so completely tore apart EPCOT Center trying to understand “what made it ring” that they left the place in shambles. In putting it back together, they tried to make it like it was before, just taking out the parts that “didn’t work.”
Those parts didn’t work because they were unique. They looked and acted nothing like the parts of other theme parks. They weren’t roller coasters and 3-D movies and gift shops. They were attempts to get people to think, to spur the imagination, to capture just a few minds out of the millions of visitors every year.
They were, in effect, components of the greatest communication tool ever devised. Greatest, you ask? Mightier than television or the Internet? Yes, I’d argue. Because unlike those communication tools, visitors to EPCOT Center were listening only to one message, one idea, one way of thinking. That might seem insidious to some, but it’s what made EPCOT Center so powerful. Messages were carefully crafted and regulated. Sponsor companies could impart their visions, saving conflicting views for the real world.
There was one common theme among all of the messages: optimism for the future. Sure, we found out as we aged that all of those companies were cynical and profit-driven. But at EPCOT Center, we heard that they had a vision, they had a plan to make our lives better, and we would all benefit from their work. We believed it.
Just as The Magic Kingdom told us that if we wished upon a star our dreams would come true, EPCOT Center promised that if we moved forward with a positive vision of the future, the world would be better. EPCOT Center was the “real-life” version of Disney’s pixie dust.
It was, in its prime, the most sophisticated and effective communication tool imaginable, spreading its messages to tens of millions of people a year, who heard and believed them.
It would be nice to get that instruction book back. Note to Disney’s new management: It’s out there. You just need to ask around a bit and be prepared to take lots of notes. It may not be intact … but it’s most definitely out there, resting with the millions of people who once believed in what EPCOT Center promised them.