FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Blasts from the Past

I'll be traveling the remainder of this week, so I'll present this week's Friday diversion a few days early...

Anyone over the age of, perhaps, 30 remembers some aspect of the Cold War, whether it be the Cuban Missile Crisis, "airraid drills" in school (I never understood the logic of how hiding under a desk could protect you from a nuclear bomb) or Ronald Reagan ordering Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Now, a website called CONELRAD has compiled a history of some of the more over-the-top Cold War moments and mementos. Most anecdotes are from the 1950s and '60s, when nuclear paranoia was at a fever pitch.

Much of the site's "atomic culture" content -- such as dire scenarios of "Soviet America", condemnations of "Marxist minstrels," or a supposed public service announcement by actor Arthur Godfrey to be played if the nation were to come under nuclear attack -- looks bizarre when seen through modern eyes. But CONELRAD is important on several levels. If you're too young to remember much of the Cold War, you'll likely appreciate the site's retro-ironic take on the era. If you do remember, it'll be a somewhat weird, even ghoulish walk down Memory Lane. Beyond that, there are clear and important parallels between the fears and reactions of that time with ours... and with times to come.

As it happened, the Soviets were either too disorganized to wage real war on the US, or they simply knew better than to try. Fast-forward to today, when terrorists walk the fine lines that separate fearlessness, insanity and stupidity. Just as concerning are less-than-rational governments like that of North Korea, which works furiously to acquire nuclear technology while its people starve. Behind the Cold War peculiarities that it preserves, CONELRAD is useful by showing how deeply nuclear fears permeated our culture... and how similar worries could do so again.

SOMEWHAT RELATED: A more cheerful memory of this era can be found at The Color Television Revolution, a homage to the early days of color TV in the late 1950s and early '60s. Especially interesting is a QuickTime excerpt of the first-ever broacast of a color TV program prerecorded on videotape, shown on NBC on Oct. 17, 1958.

Source: Boing Boing