Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Future - Michio Kaku

A while back I wrote a post about a future direction for a Tomorrowland theme, suggesting that perhaps theming could be done around the concept of free worlds, as suggested by Gerard K. O'Neill and described by Isaac Asimov in his book Extraterrestrial Civilizations. At that time I was trying to think of ideas for the future of both Epcot's FutureWorld, and Disneyland/Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowlands.

I'm almost done reading a book called Physics of the Impossible by physicist and explainer Michio Kaku, who also wrote Parallel Worlds and Hyperspace. In this book he takes various science fiction tropes and discusses them relative to the known laws of physics today. Topics include time travel, teleportation, force fields, invisibility, telepathy, robots, starships, faster than light travel, and of course parallel universes. He divides them into Class 1, 2 and 3 impossibilities. The first of these are technologies which are impossible today, but that do not violate the known laws of physics, so that they might be possible in this century. The second category are technologies that sort of "push the borders" of what is known about the physical world today, and if they are possible at all, wouldn't be realized for thousands, and maybe millions, of years in the future. The third are technologies that violate the known laws of physics, and for these to become possible, there would have to be a fundamental shift in physical laws.

Surprisingly, very few things are Class 3 impossibilities. Perpetual motion machines and precognition are the two that he discusses. The rest of those impossibilities are permitted in some form by the laws of physics as we know them today.

There is a certain type of child who is enthralled by this type of material. It's the same kid who loves Star Wars movies, and maybe loves Harry Potter books and movies. These kids are the ones who grow up to be tomorrow's scientists and astronauts, the thinkers of tomorrow. And it's not a rare type of child. So many boys are attracted to science fiction for more than the light saber battles, or the Terminator chase scenes. And girls are attracted to this subject matter, too, though I wonder how much of their interest is stifled as "inappropriate" for a young lady. (I have boys, so I don't really know this.)

I'm thinking about some possibilities for Disney theming around some of these ideas. They're in the far-off future, but within the realm of reality, which makes them targets for either Tomorrowland or Futureworld. We don't have to rely on Jules Verne's visions of the future to theme Tomorrowland; we have plenty of excitement available in newer thinking. You just have to know where to look for it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Some thoughts on Epcot and our economy

Here's one take on the debate about Epcot, inspired by a comment on Epcot Central:

Walt was wrong.

In Walt's EPCOT vision, corporations were to solve all the world's problems. Corporations would develop the technology to save our planet, to revitalize our cities, to create new sources of energy, to help us to live in harmony. The answers were going to come from our huge corporations.

Where is the flaw in this thinking? After all, corporations are the ones that employ people in our country. Corporations are the ones who would seem to have an incentive to do the research and development of solutions to problems and of products which people demand (presumably to solve a personal problem and make life easier for themselves), which they can sell to the populace and make a profit. They should be the ones with the resources to do this sort of work.

In Walt's time, it seems that this is exactly what corporations did or were going to do in the future. But today? Well, I'm not an economist by any stretch, and my understanding of a lot of thes issues is simplistic. But sometimes simplicity is the best way to view these complicated issues. Too many extraneous circumstances have come into the equation, not the least of which is the expense of labor. Labor in the United States is not cheap. And providing benefits for said employees makes an expensive employee even more costly. So the jobs go overseas, and the corporate mission changes a little.

Another major circumstance to come into play is the reliance on share prices. Everything has to be a growth enterprise. Shareholders demand increasing profits, and then share values rise. Income producing stocks like utilities might throw off a good dividend, but they weren't the stocks driving the market toward new highs.

Another facet of this circumstance is the fact that executive bonuses are often tied to stock price, since many bonuses include stock options as a significant source of compensation. Stock options become more valuable when share prices rise, not when they fall. CEOs and boards are concerned with raising stock values not only for their shareholders, which are likely to include large institutional investors, but for their own benefit. So the pressure is to have ever-increasing profits, which in turn raises share price, which in turn increases the values of those stock options that are a big part of executive compensation these days.

Corporations, like many individual Americans, have committed to immediate gratification. It's not so common that a normal person in our country will save for something they really want, putting off its acquisition until they can afford it. They have been raised in a society where they're told that they can buy now and pay later.

It's a little different for corporations. It's almost the reverse. They often prefer to take profits today at the expense of the future development of their core businesses. They are not as apt to invest in technologies which don't show much fiscal benefit right now, often choosing instead to keep that money and use it to boost profits today and raise stock prices.

Disney should understand this failure; they appear to function by the same model.

It's a model which has gotten us into big trouble. In my humble opinion, this mindset in the huge financial corporations has undermined the solid foundations that these businesses were built on. Instead of planning long range, they've looked at what's most profitable today. Greed has made them weak, as they are stripped from within by Gordon Gekko-like executives. Hostile takeovers? Who worries about those when the corporation's own board is breaking down the company from inside and selling off the parts, figuratively (and perhaps sometimes literally!).

That's a lot of talk from an inexpert source to explain, at least in part, why things didn't develop as Walt believed, or hoped, they would. Corporations are not the driving force for betterment of society that they may have been when Walt was alive. Profit was always the goal, but now it has become king. And there's no queen, or royal court.

So when Epcot continues to function with a model that suggests that corporations are the source of solutions to global problems, it may not be the best model for 2009. Science and technology may still answer our questions, but more and more we look to our government to solve our problems. We may not like the solutions government offers, not in total anyway, but at least it tries. While corporations are looking for ways to trim their workforces, at least our government in 2009 is trying to find ways to promote employment, access to health care, and financial security in our old age.

Government is not going to become an Epcot sponsor anytime soon, I fear. Neither are the universities that might be the major source of pure research. If Disney is going to depend on corporate sponsorships, I fear Epcot is in for a long decline.

Only those of us who love Epcot, and indeed, all Disney parks, truly care about the direction Epcot takes. And we don't have the money or economic clout to influence that direction. Of course, the Disney corporation cares, but they also care (more?) about their bottom line and the profitability of this park in the short term.

Corporate altruism is not something we can depend on any more. We just have to hope that Disney finds it profitable (whether it be short- or long-term) to make Epcot the sort of park that we'd love for it to be.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Interesting Reading at Epcot Central

There's a very spirited discussion about Epcot and its problems over at Epcot Central, as Epcot 82 has crafted a response to an anonymous commenter. The discussion in the comments section is quite interesting.

Read it here if such discussion of Epcot interests you.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Disney Times - the eyes of an 8 year old

My son is sort of an entrepreneur type, even at 8 years old. First, he and his 6 year old brother both love all things Disney. They cannot wait till spring break / Easter break because we're going to spend a couple of days in the Disneyland Resort parks. (We're staying at the Grand Californian, but we're going to road trip to San Diego and another destination to be chosen, and only spend three days at Disney.)

He's decided that his life's work is going to be creating a resort hotel, preferably with an amusement park, just like Disney. He asked me last night, "If you could meet anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would you choose?" I thought for a minute, answered "Albert Einstein," because I couldn't come up with a better answer at the moment. He proceeded to tell me that he would want to meet Walt Disney.

Anyway, he's started a newspaper (with his brother) called The Disney Times. So far, this newspaper features his hand drawn artwork - renditions of various WDW attractions and pavilions - and his hand written descriptions of the same.

I'm proud of his desire to create something like this, and I'm also happy that Disney has inspired him to do this. I think it's great.

He hasn't asked me for any help yet, but I'll give it to him if he needs it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Well, I finally got this classic on DVD.

I believe it has been released on DVD before, and I missed it that time around. Or I could be wrong, and this could be the first DVD release. Whatever. I have it now. I believe my boys are going to really enjoy this film.

(I'm still ruminating on some writing about the future and some ideas for both Future World and Tomorrowland.)