Today's leaps in technology are highly visible. Thanks to the Internet, you can learn about a breakthrough, process it and forget about it all within the same day. Machine miracles didn't always pass through us this quickly — before the Internet, they needed a venue. These venues were called world fairs. They were a place where you could go to see what the spirit of innovation was up to, and to have your mind thoroughly blown.
It's this draw that is leading Ryan Ritchey, a video industry professional looking for funding on Kickstarter, to travel back to these bright, optimistic technological carnivals.
"I actually became interested in the fair from being a big Disney fan," Ritchey told us in an email exchange. "By far, my favorite park as a kid was Epcot, then known as EPCOT Center, and far more interesting, in my opinion Epcot is really the closest thing we have to a permanent World's Fair."
Ritchey is right about Disney's connection to world fairs, especially the 1964 New York World's Fair. It was there that Walt Disney debuted his Carousel of Progress, a guided tour through decades of technological progress. The tour guide? An animatronic family of machine puppets. (You can watch the Carousel of Progress for yourself here, thanks to YouTube bootlegging.)
The Carousel of Progress is still in place at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, as is another classic Disney ride, Spaceship Earth. Like Carousel, Spaceship evangelizes progress and technology, a hallmark of the EPCOT Center that Ritchey remembers. (You know the one: it's that really big ball.) Other futurist rides have since been removed, such as Horizons, which, as the spiritual successor to Carousel, showed how technology could change our tomorrow, whereas Carousel showed how it transformed our today. (You can see Horizons, too, here.)
It's this love of futurism from an age past that's led Ritchey back to the New York City's iconic fairgrounds, but it's not what his documentary is about. Instead of waxing nostalgic (which I'm trying very hard not to do here), Ritchey is looking at how these fairs were the wellspring from which transformative technology poured forth.
According to Ritchey, the modern day has a lot to thank New York's 1964-65 World's Fair for, specifically:
"The fair marked the public debut of Bell Telephone's Picture phone concept, from which skype and FaceTime are modern-day descendents. Additionally, the fair was the debut of color television by RCA, and the IBM booth gave millions of people a chance to interact with a computer for the first time. (The computer could retrieve a headline from the New York Times for any date inputted by visitors.) The fair also highlighted the then-new TELSTAR satellite system, and the U.S. space program."
Intrigued? If it sounds like a worthy endeavor to you, you can learn more about Ritchey's project on Kickstarter.
In fact, if there's enough interest, Ritchey wants to dig in deeper, he told us: "There are so many interesting stories from this fair, (and also the '39-'40 fair held at the same site) and we're just scratching the surface by focusing primarily on the legacy of the fair. What I'd love to do is a full mini-series exploring all aspects of this fair, and then the '39-'40 fair would definitely be next on my list."