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See the future that never happened

See the future that never happened

July 11th, 2019 by Aaron Brand in Features
Dr. Craig Nakashian

With the advent of a more industrial world, thoughts about the future took hold of our imaginations in a different way within popular culture.

That's one idea behind a 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 20, lecture and talk at the Ace of Clubs House titled "A Brief History of the Future: How Science, Technology and Imagination Created the Future That Never Was."

The event is part of a month-long series of activities connected in some respect to the Apollo 11 moon landing's 50th anniversary.

Dr. Craig Nakashian, associate professor of history at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, will discuss how the future was portrayed from the mid-19th century onward, remarking on writers like Jules Verne, for example.

"Because obviously the moon landing was such a major scientific feat and has sort of dovetailed with a lot of existing science fiction in the mid part of the 20th century, I thought I could give a brief talk and lead a discussion on images of the future from the past," Nakashian said. "It's always been sort of a side interest of mine, the way humanity has thought about the future and it's kind of a modern idea, this notion of thinking about the future in the way that we do."

To that end, he'd like to talk about why that is. Pre-modern conceptions of the future were largely religious, after all. He'll start within the context of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, which changed the way we lived and also gave us a technological approach to the future, he explained.

If we think about the future, it's largely to wonder how technology might change our lives. For his generation, it might be TV shows like "The Jetsons" or "Star Trek," to name two of many examples. Those are positive ones, he said, but there are also negative ones, the sort of dystopian future seen in the movie "Blade Runner."

Jules Verne will be among the important authors the professor discusses. "Verne's a really interesting one because so much of what we think about with him is very Star Trek-y. It's this kind of scientific triumphalism, but he wasn't really a futurist, which is interesting," Nakashian said.

He explains that Verne's interests and ideas dovetail with some complaints people have today about the modern age.

"I don't know that we're really particularly well-adapted to think about the future because we don't know what we don't know," Nakashian said. That's seen with Verne, where technology of the times allowed him to imagine things like rockets and submarines but not major social changes, he said.

"He doesn't necessarily envision a world of egalitarian people, doesn't necessarily envision a world of equality or anything like that," Nakashian said.

Look for authors like H.G. Wells to also be discussed, and 20th century examples like George Orwell, Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," and the post-apocalyptic "A Canticle for Leibowitz," a Walter M. Miller Jr. novel that has Texarkana as one of its settings.

"I think the foundation of the talk is going to be how science and technology kind of interact with our notions of how society is supposed to work," Nakashian said, noting that with the Cold War there's a "deeply fatalistic" view of where technology will lead us. That's seen in movies like "Dr. Strangelove" and other nuclear holocaust stories.

"That's not actually that new," Nakashian says. It's in keeping with earlier conceptions of what the future can hold with the destruction of the planet. On the one hand, technology will make lives easier, but on the other hand things will go badly for humanity.

"We'll talk about that," said Nakashian, who as a teacher enjoys discussing these interesting ideas with people. "I think it should be fun," he said.

(Admission is $5 per person or free for Texarkana Museums System members. Registration closes at 11 p.m. on July 18. Register at TexarkanaMuseums.org/Events. More info: 903-793-4831.)

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