Friday, March 16, 2007
Back to the Future
I played a video game the other day called Thrillville. It’s a very cute game, geared more toward teen-agers than adults, though it’s based on an idea that took me right back to CommuniCore: building your own roller coaster.
That was one of the absolute highlights of my earliest visit to EPCOT Center – spending time at the computer station, touching the screen and listening to that crazy whistling beaver tell me whether the coaster track I chose was appropriate or not. The most outrageous aspect of your virtual coaster was the ability to have multiple loops; I can tell you this much, the things we “built” back in the early 1980s in Communicore pale in comparison to anything in the real world today!
I’d find it very hard to believe that the makers of Thrillville, or the Roller Coaster Tycoon games before it, didn’t visit EPCOT Center as kids and weren’t influenced by what they saw there. The theme park inspired many people in ways that its designers probably could never have imagined.
Today, the ideas that were on display in Communicore are remarkably commonplace. True, videophones aren’t in every home, but they are in every conference room in the office building in which I work. Talking robots are still for fun, but instead of being on display in theme parks they’re conversation starters in living rooms. “The Age of Information,” as it was called in the earliest Communicore incarnation, isn’t just upon us – we’re deep into it, and it has changed our lives in remarkable ways. Touch screens, scrolling computer graphics and instant polling were state-of-the-art technologies in 1982, now they’re so ubiquitous as to be unnoticeable.
Not many visitors to EPCOT Center in the early 1980s would have imagined their lives would be so influenced by the technologies that seemed novel at the time.
What was so appealing about EPCOT, Future World and Communicore was that it imparted a giddy sense of discovery in guests who tried out these technologies.
That’s one of the key elements that feels absent in today’s incarnation of EPCOT.
Every week, it seems, there are magazines and TV shows touting the technologies of tomorrow that are going to influence the way we live. There’s no dearth of material to pull from. I’m not a “techie,” but I realize that most of us are barely aware of the technology that makes our world work.
We live in a highly technical age, even though most people (like me) hardly realize it. Consider that, 25 years ago, the PC, the VCR and even the microwave were only just penetrating consumer consciousness. Now, they’re almost passé. Few could have imagined DVDs, plasma TV screens, the Internet and cell phones becoming so commonplace.
Last time I visited EPCOT, some cast members were riding around on ultra-cool (though not incredibly practical) Segway scooters ... but not even pausing to talk to guests who were pointing at them excitedly. Why wouldn’t they encourage that sense of discovery?
More importantly, couldn’t EPCOT be sold to potential sponsors by Disney as a fantastic way to showcase the technology they’re working on – not technologies that are six months away from being reality or are simply iterations of what we’ve already got, but truly “bleeding-edge” technologies that are going to impact our lives?
It’s a shame Disney doesn’t seem interested in exploiting this possibility at EPCOT – grrrrr, I mean Epcot. With some imagination, ingenuity and passion, Epcot could once again be a place to go to learn what our lives could be, not simply see new applications of Disney characters and video games.
EPCOT Center used to help us see how we were building our future. That future isn’t remotely finished. I’d love to learn more about it.