Monday, January 08, 2007
The 21st century, Disney told us back then, began on Oct. 1, 1982.
They were right.
For many years, EPCOT Center, that $1 billion gamble, really did give us a glimpse into our future. Touch-screens, video conference calls, fiber-optic lighting and communication, interactive videogames, mainframe and personal computers, advanced Audio-Animatronic engineering, novel transportation systems, and stylized architecture and landscaping were among the innovations guests in the 1980s experienced long before they were mainstays in our lives.
These technological applications were as much a part of the EPCOT Center experience as the rides and attractions themselves, and it was always an incredible experience to visit EPCOT and make lunch reservations by video camera or touch a screen (without buttons!) to get information about the park.
EPCOT used to have everything a kid could want. But as it faces its 25th birthday, the question is: What does it need now?
One of the greatest ironies to me is that a theme park that was meant to celebrate technological innovation and the spirit of togetherness that new advances would bring to our world is neither technologically innovative nor particularly cohesive. It’s as if the “lower-case” Epcot has forgotten what it was meant to be in the first place.
That’s not uncommon for a 25-year-old; how many of us wondered a few years after college if we were really all we could be?
For its 25th birthday, I’m hoping Epcot’s management will infuse it with a renewed sense of self. While it may be that current management’s “definition” of Epcot has changed, it is clear from a simple walk around the park that the spirit of EPCOT Center can never be completely eradicated, and that simply redefining the park and its purpose cannot change the fact that “EPCOT vs. Epcot” has left this once-great theme park with a severe identity crisis.
Again, is that particularly unusual to have at 25? Not at all. A quarter of a century is the perfect opportunity to look back on the waning days of youth and be reminded of the promise and potential that was there in childhood. It’s the time to remember those grand, almost forgotten, ambitions, and perhaps rekindle the spark of excitement that is close to being extinguished.
In its childhood, EPCOT Center was bold, brash, intelligent, energetic and spirited. Now that it’s a young adult, though, it’s chasing thrills, rarely looking toward the future and focused solely on pleasing everyone it meets. Far too often, it insists on being like everyone else.
For its 25th birthday, the best present EPCOT could receive is a serious, thorough review of its purpose and its aspirations by people who care about it and want to see it thrive. It may very well be that EPCOT’s current management – its college pals, if you will – are not the best to conduct such a review.
Turning 25 is a momentous occasion. It’s the time to put aside the frivolities of young “adulthood” and to become productive and self aware, to recognize that being like everyone else is not what will propel you through the next 50, 60, 70 years or more – the only thing that will make you truly successful is to find your own identity and to embrace it fully and proudly.
It’s hard for me to believe that EPCOT’s true nature and spirit revolves around thrill rides, cartoon characters, cheap merchandise and dilapidated attractions. The spirit of EPCOT is one of excitement, innovation, discovery and creativity. It’s there somewhere, and like so many other 25-year-olds, EPCOT simply needs some guidance, some encouragement and some tender, loving care.
So, here’s an early happy birthday wish to EPCOT: I hope you get everything you want and need for this milestone celebration.