Last month I returned from a whirlwind trip to Japan and this year's World's Fair with a vision of the future:
Trumpet-playing, dancing robots will entertain our whims and serve us whiskey.
Biotechnology will transform human beings, and long-extinct wooly beasts again may roam our planet.
Eco-technology will sustain the earth, as energy-efficient trains take us to green-architecture office buildings.
Steaming heat and long lines will await us the moment we step outside.
Lunch will not be cheap, and shimmering palaces built by multinational corporations will tower over us all.
Held in a pleasantly sprawling city park in Aichi prefecture, not far from Toyota's headquarters, Expo 2005 is the latest in a long line of these international festivals.
The first World's Fair, held in London in 1851, marked the debut of the alarm clock and the combined shower-bath. The 1889 expo brought Paris the Eiffel Tower. The St. Louis fair in 1904 introduced ice cream cones, hot dogs and hamburgers to America. 1962 saw the Space Needle go up in Seattle.
At this year's World's Fair, I joined more than 100,000 visitors -- almost all of them Japanese -- who stumbled around on one blisteringly hot day. We wandered past massive structures like the 495-foot tall "bio-lung" wall, covered in flowers and grasses designed to oxygenate and cool entire city blocks.
I bumped into a Japanese-speaking robot and stopped at various country exhibits, sampling elastic Turkish ice cream and African-style barbecue. The only thing I could do to escape the pulverizing humidity was wait to enter one of the air-conditioned corporate exhibit houses.
Inside I saw the world's best television set, a massive laser and high definition unit measuring 165 feet by 33 feet. On the screen humans appeared life-sized.
I also took a gander at an 18,000-year-old frozen wooly mammoth. Discovered two years ago embedded in Siberia's melting permafrost, the mammoth's head and leg traveled to Japan last fall. This summer, scientists decoded the mammoth's DNA, so the lumbering tusked creatures may reappear as clones some day.
I took a ride on a magnetic levitation train. These super-quiet and fuel-efficient trains may one day whisk passengers from city to city at speeds of more than 400 miles per hour.
All of it made me wonder why the World's Fair has fallen off America's map.
The last year America hosted the World's Fair, in New Orleans in 1984, Ronald Reagan was elected to a second term as president and David Byrne of the Talking Heads was wearing his huge business suit onstage.
Two decades later, an entire generation of Americans has entered the workforce with almost no knowledge of what a World's Fair is, much less if such a thing matters.
America used to be an avid participant, but now it strikes me that our urban leaders would rather have us stay at home with the World Wide Web than go to a World's Fair.
This year New York City went after the 2012 Olympic Summer Games with a vengeance, but I haven't heard of any American city clamoring to host a Fair.
That's a mistake. With the nation at war against terrorism, we need a celebration of alternatives to destruction more than ever.
Even if globalization has rendered the World's Fair a relic, there's still a reason for it: the strange way it brands an entire generation.
Last year I interviewed a Colorado Springs man who flew bombing raids over Europe during World War II. I asked him about the war, his life and his generation. But the first thing he talked about was going to the 1939 World's Fair. He spoke about the event with a gleam in his eyes that fascinated me -- and made me want to go to one myself.
I got the chance. We all deserve to catch a glimpse of the future.
-- Dan Wilcock is a staff writer for the Colorado Springs Independent.
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