First Person, Our Daily Correspondent

worlds fair

A still from Dave Fleischer’s All’s Fair at the Fair, 1928.

I am writing this from mid-air, having checked in via a code on my phone, and am generally feeling very much like an Art Deco cartoon. The Future is here. It is more like the past and the present than we expected.

There was a day on which two things happened. First, I went to see an exhibition about the 1939 World’s Fair. It featured a life-size replica of Elektro the Smoking Robot, and the famous Futurama Pavilion, and in general the Art Deco marvel that was visionary designer Norman Bel Geddes’s masterpiece was beautifully evoked. (Incidentally, for a thorough account of Geddes’s creative process, check out the terrific Barbara Alexandra Szerlip on his game design and the Chrysler Airflow.)

The exhibit was also attended by a group of young people, maybe undergrads, all of them aggressively and meticulously dressed in vintage finery. There were boys in tweed caps and sport shoes and pressed, high-waisted trousers, and girls with perfect pin curls and matte red lips. The commitment was impressive. Their interest in this particular exhibition seemed natural. I tried to stick close to them, as they added a certain air to the proceedings. But then I heard one boy say, “Wait, who was Herbert Hoover?” Still, they took careful notes on the clothes and the aesthetic, and I was glad they were there.

After the museum I went to get a cup of coffee at a nearby diner. There was a young couple at the next table, this one completely modern in dress. I heard the girl say to the boy, “The thing is, computers are the new slaves. We insult them and yell at them. We treat them like inanimate objects.”

And the boy said, “Yeah, yeah, that’s really interesting.” Which, in its way, was true.

I don’t want you to think I didn’t love all these young people, because I did. The name of the exhibition was “I Have Seen the Future,” and that day, it felt apt.