Post-modernism is one of those odd terms that very few of us are likely to use at the breakfast table, those that do use it in everday conversation are usually people I’d like to slap. However it is a concept at the heart of our society, whatever that is supposed to mean. After all, most of us probably know what it means more or less but it’s exact pinpoint definition remains elusive. Let me remind you; ‘modern’ means what is current and more or less new. The problem is that the word first came into use during the 70s and 80s and unfortunately stuck. So that already in the 80s people were referring to things that were ‘modern’ that weren’t actually modern. So for fairly practical sensible reasons ‘post-modern’ was a term that seemed more apt, the problem is that it kind of infers that we are living in the future. It perfectly illustrates the drive of western society to develop, and in many ways to live ahead of its own time.
I will forgive you for suspecting me of living in the realms of science fiction here, because in the case of some very powerful, very educated (and very rich) entrepreneurs our post-modern age -our direction as an entire species- is an extremely serious question. Where we will be in the near future; how society will be effected by technology; these are pretty huge things to think about. Most of us are too busy with buying crap and gaining abstract numbers on our bank account with which to pay for it- it’s almost like living in one of these silly games we play on our iPhones on the train to work. Speaking of which, when mobiles/cell-phones first hit humanity in the mid-90s who would have thought that in 15 years we would have the equivalent of a playstation, library, DVD player, music store, hi-def camera and god knows what else wrapped up into a thin little tap-screen device.
The originator of these movements is a rather un-modern fella, a 96 year old Brooklyn boy called Jacque Fresco that has wandered through enough academic disciplines to acquire the status of a true polymath. Growing up in New York at the very eye of the storm during the Great Depression clearly moulded his life’s views, he is almost a personification of our modern society, being directly effected by the spirit of his times and assimilating the philosophies of the beatniks, the hippies, even the punk movements. What we are as a society he is as a man, at least this is how he sells himself.
He served in the Army Air Corps during the Second World War as an industrial designer, part of the developments of this very new science which let’s not forget changed the way we move around the planet. At the end of the war when America was experiencing the legendary baby-boom, housing was a major social issue- Fresco was there again. A revolutionary design for cost-effective, out-of-the-box solution to housing was commissioned by Earl ‘Madman’ Muntz. He was a pioneer himself, a self-made corporate man with a flare for sales, his face was made famous across the country for his whacky TV commercials where playing the slapstick comedian would manage to explain pretty advanced technological devices to the public whilst in the throws of hysterical laughter. Clever guy. He was responsible for the widescreen TV (he even coined the term ‘TV’), the cassette tape and the car radio.
Muntz’s commission resulted in Fresco’s all glass-aluminium structure: quaintly named now for what was in its time ground-breaking the Trend Home. Easily built by ten men in eight hours at a cost of $5,200 it was considered an artistic inspiration rather than a practical solution to America’s housing problems. Fresco’s Trend Home was showed off at the Warner Bros Studio on Sunset Boulevard in 1948, an artsy oddity it was one of the many trophies of that engine of modern society: the monster that is Hollywood Not surprisingly, Fresco was drawn into this world, tasked with designing a 3D system for cinema screens. Already by the age of 35 he was a consultant, lecturer and teacher on various fields of engineering and design. Over the next five years he worked as a set designer and special effects supervisor for sci-fi movies.
However, by 1960, Fresco had left Hollywood and was living on a boat in Florida running private therapy sessions condemned by the APA and trying to flog three-wheeled aluminium ’kit cars’ through Jacque Fresco Enterprises Inc. To be blunt, middle-aged Fresco was odd. Clearly eccentric but with some business acumen he was, not surprisingly reaching out into social change. Attempts at starting a TV show on CBS and publishing a book under such sonorous titles as ‘Looking Forward’ and ‘Project Americana’, Fresco was really pushing it. But no one was buying.
During the 70s, clearly soaking up the air of hippyism he evolved his philosophy into a project called Sociocyberneering Inc, mixing the appearance of business with an idealist ‘institute’. Yep that’s Socio-cyber-engineering stuck into one word, pretty much sums up where he was going with this. Like many hippies who were playing with experimental living, ecological communes and behaviour such as free sex or recreational drugs, Fresco imagined that his unique perspectives could save mankind.
Now in his 50s, Fresco envisioned a utopian city that harnessed technology rather than rejected it. Like the science fiction cinematic world he had danced with in earlier decades in the wake of the second world war, there were people who could see the sense in his ideas. Unlike the hippies that were one step away from the Stone Age, Fresco was clearly ”looking forward”. Unfortunately like every other attempt at a new age driven by the hippies it was a failure. Despite Fresco gaining TV coverage and aspiring to an academic level, people had seen and heard too much of it all. Fresco’s company went bust, the utopian plot of land where the city would be built was sold off and the industrial culture of the 80s had no place for him.
It was only in 1994, shortly after the end of the Cold War when the winds of social change were blowing into more optimistic and dreamy currents. Ecology was a respectable (and profitable) reality now, recycling was not only good for the earth and good for future generations, it was good for business. The obscure Sociocyberneering Inc., now became the Venus Project. Fresco’s basic Sociocyberneering city was more or less the same, he had just had more time and tech-knowledge to make it seem relevant to what society wanted. His vision was a circular dome-like city run by a computer brain, which in theory is not far from the abstract of automated traffic and security systems that we actually have today.
But Fresco’s idea, nor the hippies before him were doing much new. The idea was discussed in great seriousness by Socrates over 2000 years ago. NB Plato’s Republic, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, Lucretius’ Nature of the Universe who sees humanity and the planet as a single unified concept (academics call it the Gaia theory), which the pagan Roman Lucretius believed was represented by Venus, the Goddess of Love.
Fresco’s Venus Project ran only 15 years before producing several children which are undeniably serious, powerful, well-respected …and most importantly well-populated organisations such as the Zeitgeist Movement which exploded in 2008 and Google’s Solve for X. The latter is connected to the top secret (no, really) Google X Lab, whose location is as legendary as Area 51 where real scientists are working real stuff which makes Fresco’s 1950′s fantasies sound positively credible. Did you know that Google funds the research of over 100 outlandish projects with billions of dollars, worked on by some of the greatest scientists around? Google it! Amongst their publicly acknowledged projects are the space elevator, the self-driving car, augmented reality glasses, and a neural network. These projects are discussed on the Solve for X public interactive media sites by white-coated scientists, I shit you not. They are seriously working on the next generation application of technology to enhance smartphones, incorporating things such as contact-lens-based screens and voice recognition commands with the above insanity.
Fresco’s dream has finally been taken seriously but turned into a Frankenstein, not surprisingly. Nevertheless, it seems what he was banging away at for seven decades has actually become mainstream- albeit the public at large seems to be blissfully unaware of this slightly sci-fi movement emerging in large scale businesses and applied science universities.