Welcome to 21st century techno-utopianism. Driven by a new tech-bro/crypto culture, supported by online hordes of true believers, and couched in philosophies of meritocracy and technocracy, techno-utopianism is born anew. But this thinking, while different, is not really new. As Darts and Letters sets out on a series of episodes to explore the persistent belief that technology will save us, we start by looking back to past utopias: rising, shimmering images of a future of wonder and plenty, out towards the horizon. For that, we visit the world’s fairs of techno-utopias past.
- First (@10:42), what exactly is a world’s fair and what purpose does it serve? Rob Rydell is an historian of world’s fairs at Montana State University–Bozeman.. He argues these events provided “the cultural ballast for stabilizing and advancing capitalist industrializing societies.” During the 1920s and through to the 1940s, this function was essential to the United States and the rest of the capitalist West as they stared down fascism in Europe.
- Next, (@32:55), what’s left once the circus leaves town? Or, more precisely, the fair? Jade Daskow is a photographer based in New York. Her project Lost Utopias features photos of old fair grounds, many of which are left in disrepair. She takes us through the disused utopias that have turned into dystopian relics that betray the promises of techno-utopian visions of the future.
- Finally (@47:30), when all is said and done, should we be pessimistic? Optimistic? Is there some promise in techno-utopian visions? What does it even mean to ask that question? Jennifer Slack is Distinguished Professor of Communication and Cultural Studies at Michigan Tech and the co-author, with J. MacGregor Wise, of Culture and Technology: A Primer. She takes us back to the future and breaks down the meaning of progress, technology, techno-determinism, and more.
——————-FURTHER READING AND LISTENING——————
- Check out Rob Rydell’s books on the history of world’s fairs: All the World’s a Fair, World’s Fairs: The Century-of-Progress Expositions, and Fair America: World’s Fairs in the United States. Plus, see more of his work on ResearchGate.
- Visit Jade Daskow’s photography project Lost Utopias to see what remains once the fair leaves town. Then, visit her homepage to have a look at her other projects, including The Architecture of Activism.
- Have a look at Jennifer Slack’s co-written book Culture and Technology: A Primer. Then, see her faculty page at Michigan Tech to peruse more of her work.
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This is a production of Cited Media. This episode received support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It is the first in a series of episodes on techno-utopianism. We had research advising from Professor Tanner Mirrlees at Ontario Tech University and Professor Imre Szeman at the University of Waterloo.
Darts and Letters is produced in Toronto, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples.