The best defense against propaganda: more propaganda. – The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations
Many early risers on the weekend know that CBS NEWS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood is a venerable news magazine program that has aired on Sunday mornings for decades, always to the accompaniment of a stately classical trumpet.
On Sunday, July 14, the headline story of the broadcast was: “The future isn’t what it used to be.” The subtitle of the online clip better summed up the connective theme of the Sunday broadcast: “Why don’t we have flying cars and hotels in space?” it read. “Mo Rocca explores what futurists got wrong.”
I was fascinated as I had just spent some time thinking about that very issue for a diary post I uploaded here on FireDogLake.com on July 10th: “We ‘Progressed’ Right into Extinction?” I had to visit the cbsnews.com website and watch some of the segments again.
(One of the advertisements preceding the various video clips on the CBS NEWS Sunday Morning webpage had Goldman Sachs informing us that “Progress is everyone’s business.”)
The headline story began with a montage of artists’ renditions of hover cars and men in jetpacks from 70 year old Amazing Stories magazines, followed by clips of spinning space stations from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Then Ron Miller, a writer and illustrator, mourned his unrealized dreams of living on the Moon. And that he – and by implication his entire Baby-boomer generation – was promised a future which “never paid off.”
Following that, an architectural historian, John Kriskiewicz, was asked about how the 1964 New York World’s Fair inspired more than one generation with a vision of a very bright, technologically enhanced future. “…by the second season of the fair, in 1965, men had walked in space…,” Mr. Kriskiewicz pointed out. “So we were seeing progress each year.”
But “50 years on, a lot of the fair’s predictions didn’t pan out,” Mo Rocca said. That was except for the ubiquitous corporate sponsorships, of the event then and everywhere else now.
“But wait a minute,” Mr. Rocca declared. “We still don’t have flying cars!”
It seems that the people at “Popular Mechanics magazine have been predicting the future for 111 years now.” So the editor-in-chief, James Meigs, was the perfect guy to tell us all what happened.
With walls of speculative artwork from decades old Popular Mechanics covers behind him, Mr. Meigs informed us that the reason why we don’t have the brave new world we were promised is because all those futurists back then simply got it wrong, as much as they got it right. (Popular Mechanics did foresee the big screen TV in 1954, so that is something.)
According to Mr. Meigs, our concepts of the future were “too optimistic in the past and they’re too pessimistic today.” Apparently, “we tend to really romanticize the past and we catastrophize (sic) the present.” Yeah, funny how we tend to do that.
The segment wrapped up with a routine from comedian Louis C.K. about how miraculous it is to fly in an airplane. The various scenes of people on the street incessantly finger-banging their cell phones punctuated the point that we should all be supremely grateful for that little gadget because, per Mr. Meigs, we “take amazing things for granted” and, after all, cell phones do “connect you to the entire world.” With no cords, while we’re walking down the street, even! Somebody call Amazing Stories! (Don’t call Amazing Stories; the original publication is long gone.)
Later, I cued up the segment titled: “Google’s Eric Schmidt and the New Digital Age” thinking that maybe an interview with “one of the most influential architects of the Internet” could offer some genuinely thoughtful insight into the future of our technological capabilities, and thus, into the direction of our entire society.
Did you know that the computer in your “smart” cell phone is about 100,000 times more powerful than the old IBM computers? I didn’t until Mr. Schmidt informed the audience. Oh, and we’ll have holodecks in the future, like on Star Trek. And thankfully more “apps” for our mobile devices are also on the way. Can’t wait for that.
The only downside as far as Mr. Schmidt can see? Cyber criminals and terrorists, of course. The segment ends on the rooftop deck of Google in New York City – the new World Trade Center under construction in the background – with Mr. Schmidt lauding the national security benefits of all of us being “connected” in the future. Yikes.
Meanwhile, more than 9 months after one of the worst disasters to hit the New York City Metropolitan Area in its history, there are still people – families – struggling to rebuild their lives with meager resources and even less material support.
This year’s hurricane season already began on June 1st and will run through the end of the year, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Climate Prediction Center has warned that there is a 70 percent chance of the Atlantic Coast getting hit by 3 to 6 major hurricanes. That’s a high risk of as many as 6 hurricanes of Category 3, 4, or 5 until after Christmas.
“‘With the devastation of Sandy fresh in our minds, and another active season predicted, everyone at NOAA is committed to providing life-saving forecasts in the face of these storms and ensuring that Americans are prepared and ready ahead of time,’ said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., acting NOAA administrator.”
Suppose any of those new mobile “apps” Mr. Schmidt was referring to will help the current and future climate refugees of New York and the surrounding area survive the next Hurricane Sandy? Think those clever little lines of computer code will help him survive the next Sandy?
I had only reviewed two segments and the real theme of the Sunday broadcast became apparent: We’ve come farther as a society than our spoiled eyes can recognize, so be grateful. There are great advances on the horizon, so don’t be so pessimistic. Those approaching advances may not be what you expected, or even needed or wanted, but it is progress, so it’s all good.
In the segment “The Future of Evolution” it appeared to me that they were predicting we will lose our hair and become “wimpier” in the future. One evolutionary scientist speculated that we will become man-machine hybrids and/or go extinct. No mention of the fate of the planet.
The “Fast Draw” segment titled “Living Forever” essentially claimed that we will be able to live 120 years, or longer “but this jump in life expectancy won’t come because we get better at fighting the diseases that kill us” it will come from “hacking” our own cells. Or nano-bots. And then, of course, when we do master living forever, we will need another Earth “because where we gonna put everyone?”
That’s OK because in their “NASA’s Kepler Seeks to Answer: Is Anybody out There?” we hear that there are actually other planets around other stars. Westward! Ho!
In the “Epic, Embarrassing Product Failures” segment we learn that that New Coke and the Edsel sucked. And that the guy who invented the Segway died when it went out of control and drove over a cliff. The Swiffer sweeper was a success, though; after all, it did earn a half a billion dollars.
In “One Man’s Career: Winning the Lottery” the poor and uneducated are reassured that if they have not prepared for the future by going to college or by getting that great job that gave them that great retirement, then they can take up winning the lottery for a living. A little cruel, sure, but that’s the future.
That was when I notice a banner advertisement for Energizer batteries at the top of the CBS NEWS Sunday Morning webpage. “Powering the Future” was the slogan, asking, “What will fuel the tech of tomorrow?” (Ah, the warm embrace of synergy. Edward Bernays would be so proud.)
During the Sunday broadcast they had been teasing with scenes from the 1962 cartoon The Jetsons, working up to their segment: “The ‘Retro-Future’ of ‘The Jetsons’”
The iconic images of The Jetsons’ future tech were what had drawn my attention to the program that Sunday morning. And it was seeing those kinds of images of a fantastic future as a kid that was part of my motivation for writing my original FDL diary post on July 10th.
So obviously I was glad I didn’t miss Matt Novak, something called a “Jetsons-ologist” who wrote an analysis for the Smithsonian Magazine of the 1962 cartoon series, “…making the case that, despite it being a half century old, The Jetsons still sets the bar for what we expect.”
After some obvious comparisons between technology in the cartoon and some technology we have now, we hear that when we do achieve the technological level of The Jetsons, we’ll just want more. Because “There was this future that was promised to us that was never delivered,” Mr. Novak said.
Finally there was “Jeremy Irons talks Trash” with Jeremy Irons digging through trash cans on a New York City street and climbing mountains of garbage in Southeast Asia. The immensely talented actor said of his effort to clean up trash around the world: “It’s not rocket science.” No, Mr. Irons, it most certainly is not.
Neither is comprehensively presenting the future of pollution and climate disruption on this planet during a program talking about the future of this planet. They couldn’t get Bill McKibben or Jim Hansen, or if they absolutely had to, Al Gore?
So according to CBS NEWS Sunday Morning, in the future we will all live a lot longer but we will be oppressed, spoiled, insatiable, genetically-modified, hairless, mechanized, wimpy freaks aimlessly wandering mountains of garbage, with astounding “apps” for our cell phones. That’s if we aren’t the ones lucky enough to go to one of the many other planets we will discover and probably immediately set about destroying. And I thought I had an apocalyptic view of the future.
In my last diary post I was lamenting the “fatally obtuse” nature of so many of society’s “smartest” people. I called into question our collective definitions of intelligence and progress – and the wisdom of the “intelligentsia” of both American coasts – in the face of the increasingly destructive consequences of extreme climate disruption. The Sunday, July 14th broadcast of CBS NEWS Sunday Morning showed the nation what fatally obtuse really looks like, as only mainstream media can.
Looks like 4 well deserved Emmy nominations for the program this year. Kudos