Visions of the Future

On my recent drive up to Montreal my fellow-traveler and I had an interesting conversation about car design. At some point in the 1990s car manufacturers made a decision to go from a boxier, squarish look to a rounder, more streamlined approach in the exterior appearance of their cars. So, for example, the 1995 Dodge Caravan looked like this (images below the fold):

‘95 Caravan

Whereas the 1996 model looked like this:

Dodge ‘96

Or compare this 1993 Subaru Liberty:

‘93 Liberty


To this 1995 Liberty:

‘95 Liberty

The question is, why? What was it that caused this shift?

My contention is that it is connected with conceptions of the future. We want our mechanical and technological devices to look futuristic. During the early ‘90s America decided that future was no longer going to be angular, with sharp edges, but was going to be round and soft. So for their cars to be forward looking, designed with an eye to the future of technology, they had to be rounder.

Do I have any evidence? Well, its only anecdotal, but compare these two videos. The first is a trailer for Total Recall, which came out in 1990. The second is a trailer for Johnny Mnemonic, released in 1995.


Notice how angular everything is in the Total Recall trailer. The view screen, the architecture, but especially the cars and the subway train, all have sharp corners. Johnny Mnemonic, only 5 years later, shows a much smoother aesthetic. Notice the round skyscraper, and the rounder garbage truck, which foreshadows the Dodge Caravan that would be released the following year. Even cyberspace is curved in this vision. Obviously this proves nothing, but I think it points to an interesting way in which our ideas about what the future should or will be effect our present, and help to shape that future.


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