Nuggets of Wisdom

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Disney Magic Highway USA

Originally, for this week’s post, I was going to feature former Epcot attraction, Horizons, which exhibited a bold look into the future. However, since I’m scrapped for time this week, I’ve decided to save that for another time, and instead feature a blast from the past with an equally optimistic look into the future.

Walt Disney was enthralled with breakthroughs in science and technology, and he loved to envision how these developments could potentially shape our future. One of the venues through which he shared his futuristic visions were Tomorrowland and his original concept of Epcot Center.

Another venue was through his television series. Every week, on his Disneyland television series, Disney would often share an educational segment that exposited on the latest scientific and technological breakthroughs, with segments that envisioned what futures these developments could create for us.

Some of the more popular “Tomorrowland” episodes, as they were often called, involved space travel, which was then still in its infancy, with segments on the prospect of travels into space, the moon, and mars and beyond. But the episode I wish to share for this post involves travel, not in space, but on the road—specifically, the highway: Disney’s Magic Highway USA.

The episode was an educational documentary created in 1958—two years before the inception of the Interstate Highway System—that showcased the history of roads and transportation in America, which included a segment on how roads are built and—the most famous part of the episode—an animated segment showcasing the future of transportation.

It’s always fascinating to look back into the past to see how the future was envisioned, and a lot of these predictions are interesting, if not farfetched to say the least: color-coded lanes for easier navigation, roads that heat up to melt ice and snow and light up in the night, and, of course, flying cars!

Of course, as depressing as it may be to realize that more than 50 years have passed since this animated segment first aired and many of these innovations are still yet to be, it’s encouraging to know that a few of these predictions have since become reality.

For starters, the episode correctly predicted that extended highway systems would allow for more urbanization and further commutes. As the narrator explains, “The shapes of our cities will change as expanded highway transportation decentralizes our population centers into vast urban areas. With the advent of wider and faster expressways, the commuter's radius will be extended by many miles.”

Also, many technological innovations such as electric dashboards and rear-view cameras have now become commonplace within modern automobiles.

We may not be hosting business conferences in our cars, but such video conferencing is possible though technology such as Skype—and of course, we can always remain in contact with the office while on the go with our cell phones. (Just make sure you’re using hands-free!)

We may not have highways that span entire oceans, but we have a few smaller scale, if not equally impressive, bridges and tunnel systems that span longer distances, such as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and—a much more impressive example—the Chunnel that stretches underneath the English Channel to connect England with mainland Europe.

And while we may not have punch cards that program cars to select destinations, GPS technology provides us with step-by-step directions to where we want to go—and with the current development in self-driving vehicles, we may finally one day be able to program directions into our cars and let them drive us to where we want to go, just like the cars in this cartoon.

Of course, it would be nice to have roads that light up at night and melt snow and ice, though we very much have something like that with—SOLAR FREAKING ROADWAYS!