There’s a lot of reporting online today about Aug. 12 being the 25th anniversary of the personal computer. I’m barely computer literate, but it amazes me that just a quarter of a century after the very first consumer PC was introduced, I’m sitting here typing at a keyboard connected to a monitor and processor that were virtually unthinkable back in 1981.
Perhaps I’m just an old fuddy-duddy waxing nostalgic, but I can’t help but read the stories about the PC and think, “Boy, we were much more enthusiastic about the future back then.” Take Epcot, for instance. (Well, you are reading an Epcot blog, after all, so it’s only natural my thoughts should turn toward our favorite theme park.)
Next year, it’s Epcot that will be turning 25, and it’s hard not to muse that, while every single day, it seems, brings continuing new advances in computers, Epcot still shows movies made before the park officially opened.
I remember visiting EPCOT Center in 1983 and having a hard time being pulled away from the touch-screen computers, the video-conference monitors, the “build-it-yourself” roller coaster and, for that matter, the park itself. Even back then, I knew nothing about computers or science or technology; my leaning was (and remains) toward the liberal arts. But the fantastic thing about EPCOT Center was that Imagineers had infused it with a sensibility, a very clear message that our collective society was capable of great, great things, and those things would become even more spectacular in our future.
At first glance, EPCOT Center’s “split personality” of Future World and World Showcase made little sense. What did a world of the future and an exploration of cultures have to do with each other? It wasn’t until years later that I understood the message – whether intended or accidental – was that our future success as a people relies on understanding each other as individuals. Just as the two halves of EPCOT Center were linked, the two halves of ourselves – the intellectual and the emotional – were linked and needed to work together for success.
Yes, I really did glean all of that from EPCOT Center. I went from pavilion to pavilion eager to soak up the amazing sights and sounds, and even if the rides themselves (such as, for me, World of Motion) weren’t as exciting and fantastic as I had hoped, every single one of them made me curious to know more.
Now, it’s quite possible that EPCOT Center simply worked on my natural curiosity as a teenager. Maybe I was an unusual kid, interested less in the fads and music of the day than in reading and understanding. Possibly. I like to think, though, that EPCOT Center simply worked its magic on me.
Likewise, the teens at the time who became infatuated with personal computers have gone on to change our world – quite literally. I’m a little envious, because my creative leaning (and lack of analytical skills) prevented me from being involved in that revolution. But they were invigorated, excited, inspired and jolted out of their young minds by the possibilities of the future.
It’s interesting to me that two of the most future-oriented concepts imaginable to me – the personal computer and EPCOT Center – both appeared at roughly the same time. It was a time of optimism in spite of a dire world situation, a time of excitement despite economic hardship, a time of looking to the future even though the recent past was filled with dissension and turmoil.
Somehow, two remarkably exciting, forward-thinking ideas – based in a combination of technology and humanism – leapt to the forefront in the very early 1980s.
One of them has thrived, flourished and shown the world that, at 25, it has only begun to show its potential. It has seized imaginations, inspired creativity, connected far-flung people, all the while being constantly reinvented, tinkered with (sometimes poorly) and re-introduced to the public in different forms. It has been a truly astounding success, both technologically and creatively.
The other, I’m afraid, is Epcot.