An excerpt from E.B. White’s New Yorker essay, “The World of Tomorrow”, in which he responds to the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair. His thoughts are not only beautifully articulated in classic E.B. White style, but the questions and concerns he raises have a great deal of relevance in our current approaches to technology and our always-connected lives.
The countryside unfolds before you in $5-million micro-loveliness, conceived in motion and executed by Norman Bel Geddes. The voice is of utmost respect, of complete religious faith in the eternal benefaction of faster travel. The highways unroll in ribbons of perfection through the fertile and rejuvenated America of 1960 — a vision of the day to come, the unobstructed left turn, the vanished grade crossing, the town which beckons but does not impede, the millennium of passionless motion. When night falls in the General Motors exhibit and you lean back in the cushioned chair (yourself in motion and the world so still) the soft electric assurance of a better life — the life which rests on wheels alone — there is a strong, sweet poison which infects the blood. I didn’t want to wake up. I liked 1960 in purple light, going a hundred miles an hour around impossible turns ever onward toward the certified cities of the flawless future. It wasn’t until I passed an apple orchard and saw the trees, each blooming under a canopy of glass, that I perceived that even the General Motors dream, as dreams often do, left some questions unanswered about the future. The apple tree of tomorrow, abloom under its inviolate hood, makes you stop and wonder. How will the little boy climb it? Where will the little bird build its nest?