Programming Note: Darts and Letters is off and retooling to relaunch in a new format early 2024.

EP47: Lost Utopias: A History of World’s Fairs (ft. Rob Rydell, Jade Doskow & Jennifer Slack)

Welcome to 21st century  techno-utopianism. Driven by a new tech-bro/crypto culture, supported by online hordes of true believers, and couched in philosophies of meritocracy and technocracy, techno-utopianism is born anew. But this thinking, while different, is not really new. As Darts and Letters sets out on a series of episodes to explore the persistent belief that technology will save us, we start by looking back to past utopias: rising, shimmering images of a future of wonder and plenty, out towards the horizon. For that, we visit the world’s fairs of techno-utopias past.

  • First (@10:42), what exactly is a world’s fair and what purpose does it serve? Rob Rydell is an historian of world’s fairs at Montana State University–Bozeman.. He argues these events provided “the cultural ballast for stabilizing and advancing capitalist industrializing societies.” During the 1920s and through to the 1940s, this function was essential to the United States and the rest of the capitalist West as they stared down fascism in Europe.
  • Next, (@32:55), what’s left once the circus leaves town? Or, more precisely, the fair? Jade Daskow is a photographer based in New York. Her project Lost Utopias features photos of old fair grounds, many of which are left in disrepair. She takes us through the disused utopias that have turned into dystopian relics that betray the promises of techno-utopian visions of the future.
  • Finally (@47:30), when all is said and done, should we be pessimistic? Optimistic? Is there some promise in techno-utopian visions? What does it even mean to ask that question? Jennifer Slack is Distinguished Professor of Communication and Cultural Studies at Michigan Tech and the co-author, with J. MacGregor Wise, of Culture and Technology: A Primer. She takes us back to the future and breaks down the meaning of progress, technology, techno-determinism, and more.


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Darts and Letters is hosted and edited by Gordon Katic. The lead producer is Jay Cockburn. Our managing producer is Marc Apollonio. David Moscrop is our research assistant and wrote the show notes.

Our theme song and music was created by Mike Barber, our graphic design was created by Dakota Koop, and our marketing was done by Ian Sowden.

This is a production of Cited Media. This episode received support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It is the first in a series of episodes on techno-utopianism. We had research advising from Professor Tanner Mirrlees at Ontario Tech University and Professor Imre Szeman at the University of Waterloo.

Darts and Letters is produced in Toronto, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples.

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