Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What would the world have been like if Walt had lived longer?

Now there's an interesting question, don't you think? 

Perhaps your first inclination is to say that it would be pretty much what it is today, except with a better Walt Disney World in Florida.  And that might be the exact right answer. 

But we all know that Walt wasn't one to rest on his laurels.  He was always moving forward.  Any reason to think that wouldn't have continued?  His passion at the time of his death was his reimagined city concept which may or may not have been a success. 

I know I've written in this blog that what we got may in fact be preferable to what Walt wanted.  But I wrote that as a Disney fan.  I would never try to argue that what we got was "progress" in any sort of really important way.  Whether his ideas proved to be workable or to be a complete failure, the world would have gained something - knowledge about what might or might not work. 

Would having that knowledge have improved the world?  Well, it certainly would not have hurt the world.  Think of the mess our cities are today.  Not technologically, but socially.  I live near Chicago where we can't seem to stop the kids in gangs from killing each other and often (far, far too often) catching innocent bystanders in the crossfire. 

I'm not sure that Walt's social experiment with urban planning would have helped these people.  But who knows?

But more to the point, Walt was, in my opinion, his generation's Steve Jobs.  Yes, he focused on entertainment most of the time, but in a way, so did Steve Jobs and Apple.   What has Apple really changed?  They've changed the way we consume our entertainment, with our tablets and our iPods and iTouches and our smartphones.  Cool toys, all of them.  I'm pretty sure they all have applications beyond entertainment.  (For example, you can download my DOING DISNEY ebook and read it on the Kindle app on an iPad...shameless self-promotion...and not really to the point since reading is entertainment.)

What if Walt had taken the next step in his audio-animatronics and created actual AI robotics?  What shape might such things have taken?  What if Walt had put his mind to space?  His contributions to our space program were mostly PR-related, but would it not have been cool if he would have had any sort of input, through the megaphone of the Disney media giant, into the direction our space explorations might have taken?  Can you imagine Walt's excitement if he had actually lived to see Neil Armstrong step onto the moon?  Disney might have more than a few satellites in orbit (I'm assuming that, as a media company, they have at least a couple of those things flying above our heads)...they might have actually had a presence in space, if Walt could have envisioned it - and I'm pretty sure that if anyone could have, Walt could have.

I'd love to assume I have someone reading this, and if that is the case, I'd then love to hear what changes, if any, Walt might have involved himself in beyond the urban planning exercise he was devoted to in Florida.  The comments are available if you have anything to add to what is, to me, a fascinating thought experiment.

(As an aside, read   HABST AND THE DISNEY SABOTEURS if you want to take a look at Leonard Kinsey's thought about what might have been if Walt's mind had been allowed to continue working on problems in the world...)


If you want to read a book about one family's strategies when vacationing for a week at Disney World, feel free to check out my title , Doing Disney: How To Spend A Week At Disney's Florida Resort   It's available on Amazon for $2.99.  I tried to write it for families who get to spend a week in the World every year or two and want to maximize their time in the parks and in the area.  It doesn't try to be comprehensive, but I think you might find a few helpful tidbits within its electronic pages...




Anonymous said...

I've thought about this several times, but more in the realm of the Disney company and Walt Disney World. Based on some of his last videos and those who were near him, I've kind of drawn the conclusion that he was past the entertainment phase of his life and more interested in trying to build something with a more world changing impact, hence the idea of Progress City that he had for the Florida property now known as Walt Disney World.

I'm pretty sure that WDW wouldn't be anything like we now, if he had lived another 20 years. He only built the Magic Kingdom to appease the Florida legislators and tourism board. But, the concept and model built for the land, indicates to me that his interest were far beyond that of a themed entertainment resort. He wanted to change the world and build a new self-sustaining city that would serve as a footprint for future cities.

The problem I see with this idea lies in the amount of capital that would have been needed to build it and the number of outside investors it would have taken to finance it. I know if anybody could have made it work, it would have been Walt, but with too many outside influences and business demands, plus the mix of people living there having voting rights, I just don't see how it could have worked. Ultimately, I think it might have bankrupted the company.

Sorry for such a sad and depressing view. I would like to hope that I'm on the extreme edge of what reality would have been, and hold out some hope for some of his other ventures becoming more like what you alluded to if he had lived longer.

Scott said...

Thanks for commenting! Walt wasn't used to failing. Was this going to be the first time? Would he have let it get him down? No one knows. I see your point, and I think there is a very good possibility that it would have bankrupted the company if he had done as he wished. But he DID have shareholders to answer to, as much as he hated it. Wonder if they would have finally forced an end to the "City of Tomorrow" path? Where would Walt's next focus have been? Or would there even have been another focus? I think it's likely that there would have been, given the type of person he was.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment again!