Was oscillating online, came across this, with an interesting quotation:
"Nothing dates the past like its impressions of the future."
I think certainly nothing speaks of an era like its dreams, and dreams do become dated.
When it comes to tech speculations its certainly easy to misinterpret an era as being optimistic -- yes Sci Fi writers loved rocket cars and space ships, but to call the 60s and 70s an optimistic era I think is a bit misleading. Of course there are dystopian sci fi futures as well... my impression of much of Sci Fi is that it was not so much about making accurate predictions as suggesting interesting possibilities, with a goal of commenting on society.
Getting a little off topic... forget about dreams, can we focus on impressions of the future?
For instance I'm not really aware of any impressions of the future that anyone had, in Ancient Rome, even in the 1800s? What did Cicero think the world would be like in the year 1000? Did anyone in the pre-industrial age foresee the industrial revolution?
Getting back to the claim, itself, are there reasons we should think it should really be true? Its easy to see why impressions of the future would age quite badly, and obviously, to observers with knowledge of the future. And its hard to think of any other subject that they should have many ideas on, but a person from our time would surely have different ideas about.
Yet, if you just ask the simple question, "How should I know a person / thing from the past when I encounter it?", its not clear that my obvious first step is to try to determine what ideas they carry about what the future will be like. Generally I would expect such a person or thing to be immediately recognizable because of stylistic elements -- perhaps style is wrapped up in this question as well though. The sleek, the modern, the cutting edge, all this is related to the future.
Is this true? Does fashion really have to do with our ideas of the future? To be honest when I put on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans and go to class, I don't really feel like I'm "dressing for the future", even though I guess I am.
My instinct is that, the fashions, the design ideology, the style of an era speaks most about how that era believes they will solve the great problems. Modernism, modernist buildings particularly, of a grand, uniform design, with a utilitarian focus... speaks of a dispassionate, unified approach to science and all problems great and small, with which one may suppose all our problems may be subdued before us. When I throw on a T-shirt, I'm still solving a problem, however small... in some sense, the now pervasive "casual work environment" which has come to pervade the 90s and 2000s, I think speaks quite highly of our society -- on a typical day, I do not expect I will have to negotiate with an extremely powerful superior, or for any other reason need to curry favor with someone by dressing formally. My work place is substantially more egalitarian than that. I don't wear a watch either -- but no one wears a watch anymore except someone trying to look professional. Watches are dated -- it is clearly expedient to look at any of the hundreds of computers which will surround you throughout your work day. They are the trappings of the wealthy from a few decades ago, and while they will probably percolate down through society for a few decades to come, for all intents and purposes they are now as quaint as the pocket watch, and the "upper class" will rid themselves of them not so long from now.
I'm not really making a very strong argument that fashion reflects the ideology of an era -- at least when it comes to personal fashion, I'm only really able to argue that it reflects the technology of the era which is kind of obvious. I'm also pretty fashion illiterate, maybe there's much better arguments to be made, and maybe I should be looking at fashion statements by entertainers, rock bands, high profile people etc. the fashionistas.
I would also suspect that you can come up with lots of counter examples -- in the case of traditions, when they are kept alive they aren't seen as dated, even though they are still sort of relics of the past. Very few traditions and religions actively hold impressions of the future, I assume because, things like this have to keep it short and simple or the extra cruft won't be passed along. The book of Revelations is one of the few major examples of predictions of the future that I am aware of... but this aspect of Christianity at least doesn't seem to be the part that makes it most "dated". In my mind, the fixation on rituals, the lighting of candles, the latin, the peculiar dress and language, the frequently gothic or baroque taste of churches, these are the things that one immediately recognizes as dated.
Well, we've wandered around for a bit. What's the verdict? Is there some truth here, does "nothing date the past like impressions of the future"? Or is it just a zippy one liner in a magazine?