a meditation on imagination and technology

By Travis McFlynn

What a watch!
Have you ever noticed that when our fantasies become true, they are usually better than what we ever imagined. That our reality is more of a fantasy than the fantasy? Take for instance Leonardo da Vinci’s helicopters or better yet, Dick Tracy’s watch. Ask anyone over the age of sixty about Dick Tracy’s watch and watch their eyes light up. For those under sixty and unfamiliar with the cartoon or the Warren Beatty/Madonna film, Dick Tracy was a comic strip that was immensely popular in the 30’s and 40’s featuring a hard-hitting, fast-shooting and daring police detective named of course, Dick Tracy. Created by Chester Gould, the strip made its debut on October 4th, 1931, in the Detroit Mirror. Famous for the use of gadgetry, futuristic technology and forensics to fight crime, Tracy’s 2-way radio wristwatch with a screen that showed the face of who you were talking to was a marvel and every kid wanted it.

Dreaming of the future and ‘spacing out’ is the catalyst of genius and the soul of our civilization. Albert Einstein claimed that the “imagination is more important than knowledge” and that seems right to a point. I might argue that the relationship is much more complex and much less of a binary than Einstein put it, but that would be needlessly quibbling. He’s right, without the imagination we have nothing. The stone axe, the wheel, the automobile and the rocket have all dreamed their way into our lives. All of our most basic tools, toys and tech start out as fantasy or science fiction or just children’s daydreams and that first step is the means of invention and the beginning of knowledge. Imagine being able to fly, the ancients did and so did every child until we had planes. Imagine walking on the moon, there wasn’t a caveman or woman who didn’t look up and think that would be neat. Imagine being able to talk to somebody anywhere in the world for free, anytime. Now all of that is everyday reality.
It's better now, Dick
So, back to Dick Tracy’s watch. A whole generation had that seed planted in their collective imagination, that we could communicate faster, smarter and with great style. And now, a whole generation has a 4G network whereby the entire information age is at the fingertips of every man, woman and child… well at least those of us who have smart phones. It’s not fantasy, but a great complex and very real reality. In fact, it’s better than fantasy. Gould’s Tracy would have been a much better and more effective cop with any smart phone, rather than those clunky 2-way radios. They did nothing except communicate! We must understand that the imagination is the starting point, but that creative engineering is the means, the way the imagination becomes real. In our culture, we’re on a dangerous path. Artists and engineers couldn’t be further apart. They’re educated and treated in radically different ways and unless we correct that, we’ll suffer for it.

Reality always supersedes fantasy and our imaginations made tangible have always taken us way beyond our wildest dreams. Every problem we have now has already been solved, but the gap between what we think and what we allow to become real is great. We can no longer wait millennia for a caveman’s dream of walking on the moon to become reality. We should push to make reality and then more reality and understand that that is the most complex realization of our imaginations—not fantasy, but the actual world. If we can imagine it, if it can be imagined, we will sooner than later build it, breath it, eat it, live it and when we do, it will be more fantastic than we will have ever expected. Imagine that and then more.

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