"Zeerust: the particular kind of datedness which afflicts things that were originally designed to look futuristic." —The Meaning of Liff
Something — a character design, a building, whatever — used to be someone's idea of futuristic. Nowadays, though, it ironically has a quaint sort of datedness to it more reminiscent of the era the work came from (or imitates, in case the zeerust is deliberate). Also sometimes called "Retro-Futuristic."
Sometimes the dated feeling is due to the blatant extrapolation of trends ascendant when the work was written into the far future. Sometimes the datedness is a bit more subtle. It's possible that the prediction turned out to be technologically or aesthetically correct (or at least on the right track), but the prediction still fails because of the would-be prophet's implicit assumption that social values will be the same in the future as in his or her own time (as demonstrated in the page image).
The datedness behind zeerusty designs lies in the attempt of the past designers to get an advantage over the technology of their time, only to find out that more mundane designs are actually far more efficient if advanced engineering and craftsmanship are used on them.
Gets its name and definition from The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, a book of neologisms concocted by the two. Not to be confused with the South African town of the same name (Adams and Lloyd mostly used actual place names for their words).
Tropes commonly associated with Zeerust:
Project Blue Earth SOS purposely invokes this, since it's a throwback to '50s science fiction TV. The series takes place in an alternate version of the 1990s and the technology and setting is made to display this trope due to it being how someone from the 50s would imagine the 90s.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Practically every iteration bears some vestiges of the era in which it was made, despite the fact that most series occur some time around the 22nd-24th Century.
The bellbottom-esque uniform pants on the 1979 original series.
The 80s-style clothing in Gundam ZZ (made in 1986)
In the same anime one of the characters in a scene is listening to music on a Walkman.
The prominence of boxy desktop computers in Gundam Wing (made in 1995).
The majority of UC Gundam series have the ubiquitous appearance of floppy disks, even ones made during the age of Compact Discs and Laserdisc, like Gundam 0083 and The 08th MS Team.
According to The 08th MS Team, the Apsalus, a flying weapon of mass destruction, uses the same hard- and software components as a mid 1990s desktop PC, such as a 6X86MX CPU from the long-defunct manufacturer Cyrix. Along with DirectX6, you can kinda tell why the first 2 versions of the Apsalus ended up crash landed.
G Gundam has a scene where MasterAsia holds up a floppy, claiming it contains vast amounts of information.
The theatrical recap trilogy of Zeta Gundam, which extensively uses footage from the 1985 TV series, adds laptops and more futuristic computer displays, in an attempt to renew the futurism.
The original Bubblegum Crisis, released in 1987 and set in 2032, is similar: clothes and hairstyles are very 1980s; car-phones are common, but the hand-held ones are rare, meaning characters make calls from phone boxes with video screens, and the Soviet Union and East Germany still exist, at least in the very first OVA. However it is worth noting that even though they completely missed the Internet revolution, many of the mecha designs, especially the hard suits, still look very futuristic.
Yoshiyuki Tomino's Space Runaway Ideon faces the issue of its protagonist having perhaps the largest afro in anime. There is also the silliness of the alien race, the Buff Clan, wearing futuristic versions of Elvis Presley's wardrobe, which were apparently intentionally done as a semi-tribute to the over-the-top outfits worn by every evil overlord in the 1960s sci-fi B-movies. Elvis Presley's outfits in Real Life tended to border on Space Clothes anyway.
Tezuka wanted his readers to be able to relate to the characters and setting, so he usually only added things like robots and spaceships when they were important to the story. Ultimately, though, this results in what looks like Schizo Tech, with ludicrously Zeerusty spacecrafts and intelligent robots that run on vacuum tubes existing in what otherwise appears to be mid-20th century Japan, even though the series is supposed to take place in the early 21st. There's an amusing bit of Lampshade Hanging of this in the introduction to one of the paperback collections, where a character complains to Tezuka, saying that since it's the future, he should be wearing Space Clothes instead of a threadbare old suit and living in a high tech space colony instead of a crummy one-bedroom apartment.
Oddly enough, the subsequent remakes managed to be even more Zeerusty than the original. The 1980s version tried to depict a more futuristic world where technology was more integrated into modern life, with the result being that the technology's greater presence makes the show's datedness even more obvious and jarring to modern viewers. Even though they got the part about more people using computers right, the computers look totally anachronistic; the futuristic architecture and flying cars they use are often hideously impractical; and all the robots that don't look identical to humans look like a cross between old Kenner toys and outdated computer parts. The latest anime from the early '00s is more self aware about this and deliberately goes with an over-the-top retro-futuristic style similar to that used in the earlier Tezuka-inspired film Metropolis. In most ways this is an improvement, but sadly, it sacrifices most of the down to Earth charm that arguably helped make the original such a huge hit.
Pluto, an Ultimate Universeremake of Astro Boy by Naoki Urasawa, stakes out a comfortable middle ground here. Most of the robots look like bigger & better versions of ASIMO, modern conveniences that are just now starting to catch on like debit cards and flash-drives are ubiquitous, Holographic Terminals are fairly common and most of the automobiles look like larger versions of modern Smart Cars. On the other hand Urasawa has restored some of the more domestic 20th-century touches that gave the original its charm. Ordinary things like houses, cafes and flowershops look pretty much like they always have. He also manages to throw in a few bits of retro-futurism that are even sillier than the original, such as high-tech-looking skyscrapers so huge that they can fit entire gated communities onto their roofs.
Abundant in Mazinger Z, evident in many of the vehicles and SuperRobots in the series. A case that stands out is an episode in which Baron Ashura captures and analyzes Aphrodite A, only for the disc with the data to be destroyed. It's a good thing the villains didn't have e-mail. Ironically, in another episode Ashura stored data in a sort of card had to be inserted into a computer to display the information stored in it.
There are other examples in Uchuu Senkan Yamato, but the craziest is Desler's use of a gold-colored mid-20th century earth telephone to argue with Starsha. Gamilon General Lysis composes his report on his first encounter with the Argo/Yamato on an alien typewriter.
Serial Experiments Lain's CRT monitors, 90s-like GUIs and BeOS. Also notable is the Dreamcast-like console seen in the OP animation, and the many computers that seem to be running some version of NeXTSTEP, the direct predecessor to OSX. Lain doesn't take place in the future, however, but in "Present day, present time! Hahahahaha!", ie. some kind of alternate reality that may or may not be turned into the world that we know at the end of the show.
Lampshaded in the 2008 anime Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne, where a character in 1991 boasts extensively about the cutting-edge advanced technology of her 486 PC.
There's something of a meta, in-universe example in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds. The character Vizor/Dark Glass(es) is from an unspecified point in the future (there seems to be some indication it is about fifty years in the future), as are several other characters, such as the Three Emperors of Yliaster. Many of these cards have by now been released as cards for the trading card game. Aside from the universe-destroying time paradox this has inevitably caused, the cards...don't stack up to what Power Creep would dictate.
Legend of Galactic Heroes is a Space Opera that features absolutely no noteworthy computers during its entire run. The novels were first written back in the 1970s. Its pilot movie was shown in cinemas in 1988. By the time the series had finished airing in 1999, current technology had outrun them completely, with super computers the like of which the author Yoshiki Tanaka could have never imagined during the inception of his masterpiece.
While most of the technology in the Ghost in the Shell franchise remains futuristic and beyond our current capabilities (Ridiculously Human Robots, Invisibility Cloaks, Powered Armor etc.) there is inevitably some zeerust in the form of outdated flip phones (no smartphones in this fictional universe as of yet, despite ubiquitous computing) and computer terminals with physical keyboards (touchscreens don't seem to have come into use in 2029 either, even with time to make them more functional than today's touchscreens). GPS is also fairly primitive (although that is slightly more believable; GPS devices in the present day don't have the sharpest graphics either, since they're purely functional). The TV series shows that chatrooms are still popular when in Real Life they've mostly been superseded by social networking sites, although geekier types still use IRC.
Cowboy Bebop revels in its Used Future / Anachronism Stew aesthetic, so it's not surprising that its computers look like they were cutting-edge in 1998 while interstellar space travel using jump gates is commonplace. The show also features prosthetics that are virtually impossible to tell from the real thing (for example, Spike's bionic eye) yet the characters still use firearms that were manufactured over a century ago according to the series' timeline.
The Scott McCloud comic Zot! features the world of the (then-)present day, and the Alternate History wherein every cool thing thought of in the early 20th century came true.
DC's 1980s Star Trek comics managed a level of datedness filmed Star Trek never did. One issue showed the Starfleet Records Division, with filing cards. The show was fairly consistent in showing us that we would finally have the paperless office by the 23rd century. The Gold Key Comics were just as dated, technology extrapolated from The Sixties even though the comics were published well into The Seventies.
Dean Motter's works — including Terminal City series, Mr. X, and Electropolis — use this trope, with a heavy dose of Genre Savvy and a pronounced tendency to pun. Character names like Tess LaCoyle and Erik "the Red" Haring are among the less egregious.
Strikeforce: Morituri takes place in the late 21st century, yet at one point an alien invader surreptitiously passes a message to one of the heroes via videocassette.
"Blobs!", a story in the first comic issue of MAD, features a future extrapolated from "the ancient year of 1952," when the "typical civilized house-wife" was just beginning to be surrounded by machinery.
Have you ever used a phone booth with a video screen rather than just a cell phone? You Will. Many of the technologies featured in the ads did in fact come to pass, including turn-by-turn GPS, touchscreen tablets, wireless internet, and video-on-demand services — mostly in forms remarkably similar to the commercials' versions. The most out-of-date part is the assumption that AT&T would be the main carrier for all — or any — of these technologies. Almost every one of those technologies exists in pretty much the form depicted in the commercial but most of them are either non-centralized or connected to the public Internet; the only way AT&T would make any money off of any of them would be as a patent holder.
Telmex (a telephone company in Mexico) heralded in 2008 its brand-new video phone service by airing a "Homage to the Video Calls", which was basically a montage of every single "TV phone" featured in a sci-fi movie. Except that one from Demolition Man.
Averted in an unintentional -and ironically funny- way in The One I Love Is. In a chapter, Misato plays a Dvd for Shinji. This fic was written in 1999-2000, and the author told in the afterword he guessed in 2015 there would be more advanced technology than dvd technology, but he didn't feel like making something up. Nearly in 2015, DVDs are still the most widespread information-storing technology.
Fritz Lang's Metropolis has vid-phones, with 1920-s style handsets. Much like Le Corbusier, the cars on the elevated freeways are all Model T's. The flying taxis are a mix of antique biplanes and Raygun Gothiczeppelins. It has ticker-tape machines and antique IBM devices instead of computers, of course.
Intentionally invoked in the happy futuristic scenes in Meet the Robinsons, as opposed to the hat-dominated Dystopia. The Neo-fifties look is heavily influenced by Walt Disney's own personal Zeerust from 50 years ago.
Star Wars features elements of this, but a lot of it is due to the Used Future setting, where technology is constantly breaking down and not working correctly. Technology seems to be entirely composed of sparking wire bundles, interfaces are all levers and flashy buttons, and holographic visual displays that are monochromatic and staticky. The prequels feature shinier and more streamlined technology, but the technology level stays about the same. At any rate, it ducks the whole zeerust discussion in the first place by stating that the story takes place "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." Thus, it's not the future and it's not our technology.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) is chock-a-block full of Zeerust — not surprising, given that that was the point of the whole exercise. There is a 1930's submersible with a radio-imager that can send pictures back to the Airborne Aircraft Carrier, giant bipedal robots wreck New York, and the hero's plane can go underwater. The entire movie is pretty much Rule of Cool and must be set entirely between 25 August 1939 and 1 September 1939 because The Wizard of Oz is in theaters (released 25 August 1939) but Germany hasn't yet invaded Poland (1 September 1939).
Back to the Future: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wanted to avoid dealing with the future for this very reason, as they couldn't know what the future would really be like. However, when the ending of the first film left them with no choice, they made 2015 basically a cleaner and more colorful version of 1985 with a generous dose of Applied Phlebotinum (computerized waiters, flying cars, and weather control) thrown in. It wasmeant to be humorous, though. Back to the Future Part II was one of a few 80s movies and TV series that had incredibly ubiquitous fax machines in the near future. The alleyway recycling center with huge cubes of shrinkwrapped laserdiscs awaiting processing was utterly hilarious. For as much as it got wrong, though, the film actually got quite a few things right, such as video conferencing, targeted personal advertising, video games that don't require the use of hands, tablet computers, 3D movies returning to prominence, and (perhaps most famously) a Major League Baseball team in Miami.
A curious example appears in Strange Days, which was filmed in 1995 and set in a futuristic Cyber Punk dystopia all the way in 1999. While obviously the mind-recording technology that formed the centerpiece of the movie's plot has never shown up, the main character's voice-transcribing answer machine is also not exactly the way that particular technology developed. Neither was Los Angeles quite the decaying urban nightmare just seconds away from exploding into all-out civil warfare in 1999. The fashions are also quite a bit more Cyber Punk than what really went down. You also have to wonder, with the rise in population of file sharing since 1999, why recorded memories aren't swapped online rather than illegally traded on discs by hand. This would have put Lenny out of a job.
Silent Running features robots that can understand human speech, yet take their programming from non-reprogrammable cartridges, which our (going mad from loneliness) protagonist has to write new software for, hand-solder the programmed chips onto the boards, and then insert into top-loading bays that wouldn't hold a NES cartridge steady.
The Island is mostly devoid of zeerust. It takes place in 2019 (released in 2005), where Los Angeles looks pretty much the same, except for efficient high-speed mass transit. Though the vehicles are pretty much all modern cars (no junkers). MSN runs a free database that allows you to look up anyone you need at booths, and the phones and computers are pretty much the same, albeit with more voice recognition software. However, for everything that is perfectly in place, something is off. The police have flying jet bikes with machine guns, tiny spiderbots can enter someone's body through their tear ducts to act as a tracking device (that leave through urination, despite being a bit.....uncomfortable), and, of course, giant underground colonies where sentient clones are raised for the wealthy as organ banks. All this is supposed to come about in ten years?! One thing they did get right though? The Xbox. In the movie, the characters are playing a fighting game with virtual avatars when all they do is pretend to fight themselves. When the movie came out, it was so futuristic it fit right in to the sci-fi environment. Now, with the Kinect - it's pretty much spot-on.
Soylent Green. Nice arcade machine you got there, Shirl! The film is set in 2022, but Shirl plays a full-sized stand-up arcade game in a swooshy plastic enclosure that couldn't be more 1971 (it's actually the seminal vector-graphics game "Computer Space"). The police callbox also qualifies.
Blade Runner, which was made in 1982, thinks that in the year 2019 we'll have flying cars, skies so choked with pollution that you never see the sun, off-world colonies, implantable memories and androids so lifelike that we'll need detailed personality tests to distinguish them from the real thing... All the while with Video Payphones still in use.
The film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, directed by Francois Truffaut in 1966, features zeerust aplenty, notably a propeller-powered monorail commuter train (which was an actual French prototype at the time, but was never developed), antique-looking vehicles, interactive wall-mounted television sets (though wall-mounted TVs actually would be a thing), and payphones with a weird design. Explained in that this was one of the first films where the director deliberately went for a Schizo Tech look. Also, the jetpacks at the end.
The film Starship Troopers suffered from this more than the book. In the film version, CRT monitors were prominent despite flat-panel monitors already having been invented and in production by the time the movie was made.
The opening visual communication from 22nd Century Earth Base Mission Control in Dark Star features reel to reel computers in the background. When the guy explained they'd had to deal with "a few budget cuts", he clearly wasn't saying the half of it.
In A Clockwork Orange Alex plays Beethoven's 9th Symphony off of a microcassette tape, which looked pretty futuristic in the 1970s, but never caught on, and were replaced by the far superior compact disc.
Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, Zenon: The Zequel and Zenon: Z3 (that take place from 2049-2054) have a lot of this (just look at the title of the first one), despite being made in 1999, 2001, and 2004 respectively.
The Planet of the Apes remake starts out on a futuristic spaceship, yet one from which trained apes are sent on scouting missions. Chimps did play a key role in old 1960s orbital exploration, but were only used to confirm that the space-borne environment wouldn't hamper the anthropoid brain or body, before human astronauts could take their place. Nowadays it's rodents, fish, and various invertebrates that are commonly sent into orbit, while far-flung surveying of the solar system is performed by robots: there's no point to launching apes anymore.
It is amazing how they were able to build a fully functional cyborg in RoboCop (1987), while still using floppy disks. Robocop's visual displays are also in monochrome. Even the computers used by the police station and OCP's corporate headquarters have pretty crappy graphics, although that may be because the setting of the film is a Used Future / Crapsack World.
A strangely modern example appears in Men In Black: K shows J a tiny disc, explaining "it'll replace CD's soon." Back then, it looked like the logical next step in audio recording medium. But with the invention of the MP3, it seems we skipped that "micro-disc" step. The trope is then used intentionally in the third movie, with the 1969 MIB headquarters (as well as many of the aliens inside) having a very Zeerusty look.
Khan's followers look like the entourage of a hair metal band.
The computers look pretty 80s too, although they're at least better than those in Star Trek: The Original Series. In the novelization, one of the Regula 1 scientists complains that a portable computer doesn't have enough memory for his "fifty meg"note It's not specified whether he means megabits or megabytes game.
Star Trek later introduced the fictional unit of "quads" to describe computer capacity in order to avoid looking dated. Perhaps it was a 50 megaquad game?
On the DVD Commentary, Nicholas Meyer talks at great length about how dated the way David wears his sweater is, citing it as an example of how "all works of art are inevitably products of their time".
Airplane II: The Sequel features a deliberately Zerrusted moonbase (complete with inverted swooshy doors that don't make the noise, you make the noise at them to open and close them, and even the "Device with Lights That Move Back And Forth" seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and other places in the franchise). Of course the base commander is played by William Shatner at his overblown best.
Invoked with many of Gru's gadgets and vehicles in Despicable Me, in order to emphasize how behind the times he is. His car, for instance, looks like a "futuristic" tank taken straight out of sci-fi from The Fifties. In contrast, Vector's tech is much more up-to-date for 2010 standards.
Alien has been described (by the February 2014 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly) as "A world where the iPod never happened", owing to the clunky keyboard-and-toggle-switch control panels and cathode ray tube TV display monitors.
A Logic Named Joe by Murray Leinster is one of the most notable aversions. It was written in 1946, yet it revolves around a computer network strangely prophetic of the real-world Internet, complete with online pornography and content filters. At that time there were 6 working computers in the world. That said, it's still loaded with Zeerust - although they have a very modern monitor-and-keyboard interface, the eponymous "logics" run on a combination of relay switches and "cold" vacuum tubes, and can literally figure out anything.
The Machine Stops was written in 1909, and has what is basically the internet, though with fixed terminals. Anyone can talk to anyone else on the planet through a screen. And given the state of human society in that story, the lack of portable devices is completely justified.
In print, Robert A. Heinlein's early novels for younger readers all have an anachronistic "future 1950s" feel to the society, with slide rulers juxtaposed with interplanetary travel, Mars colonies, nonhuman sentients, and a host of other technologies, concepts and discoveries one might think would change American society. Examples include:
In Have Space Suit – Will Travel, there are colonies on the Moon and the hero wins a used space suit in a contest... but the contest is held by the sole sponsor of a (typical) live TV program (a soap company), as in bar soap for washing clothes. By hand. By housewives. Even when RAH wrote it, most of his readers were probably too young to remember that. On top of that the chronically unemployed town ne'er-do-well, "Ace" Quiggle, hangs out at the drugstore soda fountain. Drinking chocolate malts.
In Rocketship Galileo, the eponymous spacecraft has an autopilot that is a shaped cam connected to the controls. Which are, in turn, connected to the damping rods in the nuclear reactor that makes up the ship's drive using mechanical linkages. There's also trans-Atlantic passenger and freight rockets instead of jets. And the existence of the U.N. police has abolished war. Heinlein had Nazis on the Moon too, but given that the book was written in 1947, that probably seemed like the least fantastic element.
In Misfit, Andrew Jackson "Pinky" Libby, a lightning calculator as well as a math genius (the two often don't go together IRL), saves the day when the space-ship's sole calculator is on the fritz, gaining him the new nickname "Slipstick" for his supposed mental resemblance to a slide-rule. Earlier in the same story, Andrew saves his blasting team a lot of fix-up work when he notices an error the foreman made in computing the charge of nuclear explosive to use...which the foreman did with a slide-ruler.
And Heinlein's supercomputer in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is intelligent (and sapient) enough to plan a full lunar revolution... but gives all of its calculations on long rolls of printed paper. Ironically, the book did accurately predict CGI acting. The supercomputer is also built on a 1950s scale, to the point that bugs (actual living bugs, mind you) are a threat to his hardware.
In Starman Jones and other stories, FTL Travel is accomplished with the help of books containing table after table of pre-computed values—-seemingly no electronic storage or look-up at all. The books didn't just contain look up tables for functions — they also contained the tables for converting between decimal and binary, as all the values had to be converted into binary before being entered into the computer by toggling switches to set the binary values, then reading the binary values from the display lights and converting them back into decimal to make them human-readable. This last is particularly strange, as computing devices that did decimal I/O with internal conversion for binary internals had existed for at least a decade when the novel was written.
It's not merely a matter of changing technology, but of changing mindsets. His classic story —All You Zombies—, written not long after WWII, fails to anticipate that the horrifying events of that war would lead to very strict legislation about medical procedures and informed consent. His central character is placed under general anesthesia — and wakes to be informed, after the fact, that s/he has been subjected without consent to sex reassignment surgery. In our world such a character would not be relegated to a hand-to-mouth living writing confession stories, because he would sue the hospital and doctor into bankruptcy.
His later works included bits as well. Stranger in a Strange Land implied data stored on magnetic tapes, missing the rise of hard disk drives. The tape recorder was powered by a tiny onboard nuclear reactor, and was described as "the size of a cigarette lighter," which likely meant the size of a Zippo, not the smaller disposable lighters used today. Essentially, it's a Zeerusted iPod.
Used again by Heinlein in Between Planets with the added bonus that the protagonist (who is staying on a dude ranch in New Mexico) takes a call from the cell phone mounted in his horse's saddle!
Rhysling, the hero of the short story "The Green Hills of Earth", was blinded in a reactor-room incident aboard an interplanetary spaceship. Whereupon his crew mates "passed the hat", and he was dumped in a strange spaceport to earn a living by busking: the narrator (looking back from an even more remote future) admits that no one would have thought ill of Rhysling if he'd settled for simple begging, since "there was no way then to restore a man's sight"; in a future where planet-to-planet travel is routine, Heinlein failed to anticipate technological advancements that would increase employment opportunities for blind people. He also turned out to be a genius singer-songwriter, and would've made a fortune in our days. Unfortunately, the story was written good ten years before the concept of a rock star. In The Forties there weren't a snowball chance in hell that a washed out blind ship's mechanic could make it big in the entertainment business. Not to say that Rhysling wasn't famous — he was. He simply haven't had a penny out of his fame, and stayed a street busker to the end, though it might have do with his personal preferences.
Heinlein's first written (1938) but last published (2003) novel For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs is chock-a-block full of Zeerust. Of main significance is a cross between a centralized library and a network that handles information and entertainment, but transmission is by speeding up analog signals which are recorded at home then slowed down to normal speed. That was actually used with wire recorders for a while during WW2 by Allied spies to radio messages from Europe to the UK. What hasn't caught on is everyone lounging around stark naked at home, and most of the time in public.
Deconstructed in the Kim Newman short story "Tomorrow Town", which is set in the 1970s and focuses on a murder committed in an experimental community of futurists deliberately constructed as a 1970s version of what the year 2000 would look like — and the savvy detectives are quick to realize that it's completely unworkable, with a futuristic monorail system and bubble cars that can be outrun by someone on a bike, robots that are bugger-all use whatsoever, a "super computer" that's really good at adding things up but not much else, an "evolved" linguistics system which exists largely because its creator has trouble spelling, and a dysfunctional and somewhat sexist social system that, not un-coincidentally, places the (murdered) leader of the community in both a position of unquestioned power and gives him the opportunity to legally steal other people's girlfriends/wives if he fancies them, whether they (or their partners) want to or not. Oh, and the very fact that a murder's been committed by people who claim to have evolved "beyond" the petty motives for murder is a pretty big strike on the card as well. And, of course, there's the fact that the 21st century reader knows for a fact that all of the community's predictions about the world of 2000 are completely wrong.
The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov made some amazing predictions decades before they should have rationally been expected (Pocket calculators, screen-displayed information, atomic clocks, etc.), but some of its technology has rusted along with the rest of them. Asimov predicted the continued miniaturization of information, but instead of computer memory it is all stored on microfilm; hard-copy newspapers are still being printed millennia after the invention of electronic displays; and the thought of an actual thinking computer that can perform sequenced actions, instead of one that simply processed mathematical calculations, was not even introduced until Foundation and Earth, a sequel-book written in The Eighties and taking place thousands of years after the invention of Faster-Than-Light Travel, whereas a modern-day programmer using Visual Basic can do the same thing with an If-Then code.
The "Second Foundation Trilogy" by Benford, Bear, and Brin, during its industrial-scale lampshade-hanging and retconning of the entire Foundation saga, goes some way to address this. the robots that have been caring for humanity under the terms of the Zeroth Law of Robotics deliberately dumbed down human civilisation to make the job more tractable.
The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov is about a secret organization which regularly changes the whole history of humankind, by combining Time Travel, Butterfly Effect and magical computers, powerful enough to calculate what the new reality will look like after the change made by a Butterfly of Doom. They also use... wait for it... punched cards. There's a partial implicit Hand Wave at the end of the story: we never saw our future, and that was the case already when the book was written in 1955: a minor change in 1932 led to a different course of technological development.
Minus Planet, a story by John D. Clark from 1937, has a huge one. The protagonist observes an anti-matter planet, compares his sightings with those of observatories on Mars and Venus, and works out that it's heading for Earth — with a slide rule.
William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer, is unintentionally prophetic in many ways, often because people have read it, gone 'Cool!' at something in it, and proceeded to build it. A lot of the Zeerust comes from Gibson himself knowing almost nothing about real computers when he wrote it on his (manual) typewriter, such as:
A famous and unfortunate moment early on where Case's "...buyer for the three megabytes of hot RAM in the Hitachi wasn't taking calls."
The eponymous sentient supercomputer's more extroverted counterpart, Wintermute, disturbs and frightens Case by causing a bank of pay phones to ring in sequence as he runs past them. This is in addition to the fact that cell phones are completely non-existent in Gibson's vision of the future. In his introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition to the book, Gibson apologizes to any young readers who are baffled as to why no one has a cell phone, and who can't imagine what a payphone looks like.
Gibson's Bridge Trilogy started showing this post-1999. Anyone else happen to remember a gloves-and-goggles-VR Internet coming into existence in the 2000s? Didn't think so.
Consciously addressed in Gibson's "Gernsback Continuum", a short story about a photographer who receives an assignment to photograph California's Zeerust-laden "Raygun Gothic" architecture.
Subverted in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels, particularly the first one where Arthur, new to space, sees a spaceship and is impressed by how it looks so future-y. Ford, an alien who's been across space and time, is aghast by how garish and out-of-date it is. Life, the Universe and Everything also drops a lead lampshade on the in-setting zeerust of the 'ultra-modern' courtroom where the Warmasters of Krikket were tried for attempting to destroy the rest of the universe, mentioning that this was 2 million years ago, "when ultra-modern meant lots of stainless steel and brushed concrete".
Much to Ray Bradbury's surprise, Fahrenheit 451, first published in 1953, partially avoided this, portraying an early 21st century society with people listening to music from devices the size of cigarette lighters with plugs that go in their ears, televisions that are as wide and as thick as the walls they're mounted on, and people who are obsessed with their "interactive stories". Of course, he did write a number of short stories (several of those featured in The Illustrated Man being good examples), which described one-piece rockets being used for interplanetary and interstellar travel. For those of you who don't know, modern rockets are multi-stage and designed to separate into different parts upon leaving the atmosphere; this type of rocket goes at least as far back as the Apollo Missions. Bradbury also probably didn't count on the possibility that later rockets would break from the traditional image (a cone atop a long cylindrical tube with the engines on the bottom), i.e. the space shuttle. He also had a tendency in his rocket-based stories to write all-male crews, apparently not considering the eventual possibility of female astronauts.
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World posits a Dystopia where humans with drastically reduced mental capabilities are engineered in a complex of labs... to be elevator operators. Lampshaded in the final chapters, when Mustapha Mond claims that many institutions deliberately use archaic and inefficient technology in order to ensure that there are always jobs for the lower castes. There's also a moment where they use a card catalog. It is also specifically stated at one point that children's games are heavily regulated, and any change in sanctioned games must be to one requiring more equipment (specifically to increase the consumption of goods).
Islands in the Net, by Bruce Sterling, has a computer-net dominated future — of fax machines and BBS (bulletin boards, for those too young to remember. The pre-WWW ancestor of the forum). Still, with just a few changes in wording, it could very easily become a believable Twenty Minutes into the Future, as it does predict many plausible consequences of information technology.
Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man holds up surprisingly well for a novel written in the '40s, mainly by circumventing or just not directly addressing most potentially Zeerusty subjects. However, there's only one computer in the book: it's the size of a room and prints the results of its calculations on paper tape. Despite this, its legal verdicts are weirdly intuitive.
The Metaverse of Snow Crash resembles Second Life more than the internet (which is essentially what it turns out to be). Though it may be a case of Second Life Imitates Art, Phillip Rosedale explicitly claimed Stephenson's work as inspiration. Also, on a more political front, the United States has devolved into a series of franchises that each function as separate countries, and Japan (or "Nippon") is the undisputed leader in technology and business, as apparently the Japanese economic bubble never burst. It also features a real-time Google Earth, and a wikipedia which requires one to pay for its information.
Dragonriders of Pern shows a bit of this: apparently, when we achieve faster-than-light interstellar travel and turing-level artificial intelligence... we will be using DOS again.
Managed to predict relatively cheap ubiquitous use of the Internet in 1989, just one year after it was made accessible to commercial groups. On the other hand there are also Hard Boiled PIs.
Even more, it predicted the iPhone. Yep. The Diskey is a small, ubiquitous device looking like a screen the size of a cigarette pack, but much slimmer, that you command by pressing icons that appear on it. It's used as a communication device, has a direct connection with the computer network and is your main way to access any medium. The cycle doesn't tell if you can shake it to skip tunes, or if it systematically falls apart by itself after three years use, though.
Valentina: Soul in Sapphire, a story about a sentient computer program published in 1984, is interesting because it rather accurately predicts the Internet, online gaming culture, and the use of emoticons in text messaging.
Larry Niven's Ringworld Engineers has computers that use magnetic tapes. Built by a race that make floating cities, interstellar ramscoops, longevity drugs, etc.
Later novels in the series retcon the technology, stating that the longevity drug was almost certainly the result of a Protector needing money for a project, and implying that a lot of the other technology might have been passed along by Protectors for similar reasons.
Many of Isaac Asimov's robot stories, set in the 2000s—and even the Lije Bailey novels, set in about the 3000s—mention characters using slide rules. Robots can't do math?
Another weird one was that a plot point in one of the Lije Bailey novels revolved around the incredible idea of robots with interchangeable parts. Then there was concern about robot brains controlling starships (especially warships), because it wouldn't occur to them that other ships contained humans.
Never mind that, try a robot with true A.I....that can't talk because text (or robot "thought") to speech is too complex. Really, it's amazing how his early robots had A.I. and could communicate in lots of ways, but couldn't talk. They can understand human speech perfectly well, however.
Particularly in the early days of electronic computing, there was a serious lack of understanding of what kinds of tasks are computationally easy and what kinds are computationally hard. It was thought that converting between speech and internal data representation in the system, machine vision, and walking would be fairly simple problems to solve while symbolic algebra and other advanced mathematics would be difficult, because that's the way it is for humans. The reverse is true, because humans are the result of several hundred million years of R&D in doing the former tasks while we've had almost no R&D for the later. It isn't that making sense of the visual world, speaking and understanding speech, and locomotion are easy problems, we've just got very, very optimized wetware for those tasks, while our ability to perform higher mathematics is more or less just a happenstance by-product of abilities that were useful to staying alive in a neolithic culture.
In Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the South the South African white supremacists arming the Confederacy with AK-47s are from 2015, but the details given of that year appear little different from the late Eighties - early Nineties (published in 1992.) The only apparent reasons for the future setting are the Time Machine's span of 150 years, and the invention of a time machine.
Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward", written in 1887, portrays the U.S. in the year 2000 as a "socialist utopia"—actually a top-down military dictatorship. Bellamy's descriptions of credit cards and the Internet, however, were surprisingly spot-on, if primitive.
It should be noted, however, that Bellamy failed to imagine even radio, let alone television. The main entertainment in the year 2000 was sitting around in your living room listening to music piped in over telephone wires. While this may suggest the infrastructure of the internet, the absence of any wireless technology (e.g., radio) is striking. Also, the automatic retractable awnings over the sidewalks is highlighted as an impressive technology which was no doubt feasible when the book was written.
George O. Smith's Venus Equilateral stories (1942-1945) feature a -long, -diameter space-communications station stuffed with vacuum tubes. The problem of communicating with ships in flight is solved with complicated cams. The engineer-heroes work out problems by sketching them out on tablecloths and using their slide rules.
The three Rama sequels (written by Gentry Lee, with Arthur C. Clarke contributing ideas) take place in the 23rd century, but we're still using analog tapes for museum tours, and somehow the internet has failed entirely to catch on to the point that they actually send TV reporters and newspaper correspondents on potentially dangerous deep-space missions instead of just letting the astronauts post on their blogs to tell the world what's going on.
Arthur C. Clarke was a visionary in many respects, but some of his works share his peers' failure to anticipate advances in computing:
In the short story Superiority, a major plot point is that a spaceship battle computer requires a million vacuum tubes and a team of five hundred technicians to maintain and operate it. The liner carrying the technicians makes an interesting target.
In Earthlight the protagonist, searching for an information leak, finds the moonbase computer with girls feeding it tapes, and a room-full of electric typewriters. He leaves convinced that information could not possibly leak out through the computer, because the hardware is locked away.
Captured in the 1962 non-fiction book, 1975 and the Changes to Come. Some predicted innovations that never came to pass include toaster bacon and punch-card rotary phones.
Toaster bacon actually did exist— you can see a PDF of the patent for the packaging here. They had to pull it from the market because some packages leaked grease from the bacon and caused toaster fires.
Philip K. Dick books are pretty Zeerusty, but a glaring example is in Ubik. The characters are in a spaceship, en-route from the Moon to Earth, and they need to make a phone call. Someone punches a search query into an electronic phone book (which is big, bulky device, not simply a function of the ship's computer) which then extrudes a punched-card with the number on it. The card is then fed into the phone to make the call.
Another unintentionally hilarious example is in the earlier novella "What the Dead Men Say", in which it is commonplace for the dead to be frozen an held in a "mortuary" where a certain number of times they can be partially revived enough for friends and family to interact with their thoughts. As fascinating as his ideas may seem, it might seem a bit jarring to modern readers when the characters refer to telegraphs and at least once an "electric typewriter". Technically the latter does exist now, but it's more commonly known as a computer.
Used deliberately in the short story The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew by Catherynne M. Valente, with a documentary filmmaker using being shot off to Venus in a Jules Verne-like cannon, and her B&W newsreels of alien worlds shown in silent movie theatres.
One second grade schoolbook contained a short story about life in an extremely polluted future. It was told from the point of view of a kid living his normal day at home (school via video and so on). At one point, parents came back home and the mother went to the kitchen and set about making Food Pills dinner. Yes, in a world where dinner consists of swallowing pre-made brown ("chicken and gravy") and green ("peas") pills, it's still the woman's sacred duty to take the pills out and set the table.
The Tom Swift series of books (1910 or so) foretold some interesting developments, such as stealth airplanes (though in this case the stealth related to silence), television, and laser weapons. The Tom Swift, Jr. series of books (50's and 60's) also foretold some interesting developments including pocket calculators, space shuttles and space stations.
Stanislaw Lem's Tales of Pirx the Pilot suffers partly from this, especially with the bigger computers that still have punchcards as input, and satellites communicating with morse.
Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, Player Piano, ("Utopia 14" in some printings) features EPICAC, a massive supercomputer that takes up the entirety of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
The early Pip and Flinx novels are prone to this, although the series retcons much of it away in time. The first one has Flinx don a survival-kit belt that includes a supply of minimicrofilm books on spools for his visit to an alien planet; in the second, he's kidnapped by a pervert who needs his psychic powers to guide an animated simulation within a "Janus jewel", the functions of which would be outclassed by your average 16-bit graphics program.
Pretty much any non-fiction "futurism" book will become this trope within a decade or two of publication. The 1970 bestseller Future Shock, for example, tells of future housewives who get their hair dried under 50s-style bowl driers that tickle their pleasure centers as they work, and that the pretty airline-counter receptionist who books your flight (because, of course, there's no Internet to buy tickets through) could be part robot.
Orson Scott Card's Ender’s Game falls under this, imagining that the internet would primarily be a think tank for the world's smartest people and that everyone would use online newspapers.
Kill O Byte by Piers Anthony has very sophisticated virtual reality... over dialup Internet.
The Android's Dream by John Scalzi has Replicators which function a lot like modern 3D printers. Just six years after the novel was released, they already feel dated compared to the 3D printers sold for home use today.
The SeeTee stories by Jack Williamson have rocketships that have to search for their targets using advanced thermal and photographic equipment. Of course that was because they were written in the 1940's, when radar was a military secret.
The glove-and-goggles Virtual Reality rigs in Heavy Weather (1994) by Bruce Sterling. Younger readers may not remember the moment when this was going to be the future of computing.
Costume designs from Lost in Space. Everything from Lost in Space such as the laundry machine that spits out neatly folded, plastic-wrapped clothes.
Khan's origin story is that he's an Indian warlord/genetically-altered superhuman during the Eugenics War in the year 1996.
Also the name itself: "Eugenics War." Eugenics was at the very least on its way into the annals of pseudoscience by the time the show was being filmed, mostly thanks to Those Wacky Nazis.
The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations", in which the crew time-traveled into the setting of the episode "Trouble with Tribbles", mined a lot of amusement out of the style differences of clothing, devices, and Klingons.
While getting prepared for the mission, Dax makes appreciative comments about the "classic 23rd century style" of the equipment.
Star Trek: Enterprise really made things interesting, considering it is a modern Trek with modern designs yet is supposed to be set before the Original Series. It was a challenge to make their hand-held communicators bigger than modern cell phones yet smaller than the clunky boxes they used. The designers even said that in 40 years, the modern Trek will look like Zeerust (really, it won't take that long). Plotwise, things haven't changed much either: one of the stock patterns of threat in ST: TOS is "Step 1: take away the communicators". Similarly, by 2005 or so, the stock pattern in all contemporary media is "Step 1: take away the cell phone". Most writers then and now haven't worked out how to create dire circumstance while having reliable mobile communication available (this is why Buffy the Vampire Slayer didn't get cellphones until the last season).
Enterprise lampshades this trope as well; on encountering the classic Trek starship Defiant they gush at how futuristic it is.
Trek's computing technology excluding AIs is absurdly primitive by contemporary standards. TOS has the Federation using hand-sized Microtapes in 2267 when we have MicroSDHC cards the size of a fingernail today.
Let's give credit where it's due and acknowledge that Trek's PADDs have a great deal in common with modern PDAs and TabletPCs and that communicators are cellphone equivalents. Our cellphones, however, are restricted to sublight communication and at most single-planet range. PADD's, however, have aged about as poorly as the main computer systems. They seemed to have no built-in real-time communications capability (in particular no video) and were not capable of running multiple applications, which often resulted in users working with more than one PADD at a time.
Voyager managed to experience the onset of zeerust during its run; the eponymous ship's desk-mounted flat-panel displays were pretty good at first, but by the end of the series they were looking distinctly clunky.
Even more subtle is the ubiquity of touchscreen technology and contextual interfaces used even as early as TNG (1987), which really seems somewhat realistic if you're not into the idea that we'll control everything with brain implants someday. Heck, flip-open cell phones exist because of TOS.
Motorola had a big hit when they introduced a slim, very pocketable flip cell phone, the "StarTAC"—not a coincidence, for sure. Unfortunately, even though the Federation had a galactic information network, their communicators and tricorders didn't have data plans unlike today's smartphones.
The signature LCARS interface introduced in ''Star Trek: The Next Generation" as the look for all Starfleet ship control panels qualifies. It anticipated smartphone-like touch-sensitive virtual controls, but not most of computer graphic user interface advancements like tiled windows and multitasking. LCARS resembles a multitouch-enabled piece of DOS software. Since TNG debuted in 1987, before Windows 1.0 was readily available for IBM PCs and most home computers were Commodore 64s or ZX Spectrums, this is at least understandable.
In one TNG episode, Wesley marvels at how some machines can possess whole gigabytes of memory. (Though to be fair, these machines were nanites. We don't have gigabyte nanites yet.)
Part of this may be explained/handwaved by Earth's history in the Trek universe- The 1990s saw the Eugenics Wars which left things a bit stunted, followed by bad social climate and eventually World War III. Technology that developed in the real world didn't in the Trek universe.
Doctor Who has had some problems with this due to its exceptionally long run. Under various excuses, the new series has "modernized" such Zeerusted elements as the TARDIS interior (which has, on a few rare occasions, had a deliberately Steampunk look), the Cybermen, and the sonic screwdriver, though not the Robot Buddy K-9, designed in The Seventies. In "School Reunion", a lampshade was hung on the latter:
Rose: Why does he look so... disco? The Doctor: Oi! Listen, in the year 5000, this was cutting edge!
The revived Doctor Who series console rooms have been "organic / coral" and "relatively shiny and futuristic for 2010". The console itself has a thrown-together old-fashioned scrapheap look, with bicycle pumps and hot / cold taps replacing random parts. TARDIS interiors are justified in that they're fully customisable by the user, and if they look out of date it's simply because the user wants it that way. On the other hand, modern Who may have Zeerusted itself in the future by referring to the interior looks as the "desktop theme".
One of the Eighth Doctor books had the TARDIS crew landing on a city based on these concepts, with foodstuff pills, antigrav beds, a "supercomputer" full of tapes and whatnot. The problem? No civilization in the entire Universe ever created this city... It turns out a Time Master had once been helped by a group of kids from The Sixties and granted their wish to see the future they'd seen in comics and movies. Since no future ever fitted with their expectations, he created the city for them.
Remarking on all of the Sixties Zeerust would be pointless, but a few more jarring examples:
In "The Keys of Marinus", Ian and Barbara remark that they can't tell what colour the alien world is from the TARDIS's screen, which may be a little confusing to modern viewers used to colour televisions.
"The War Machines" is made of this, since it is about an extremely powerful computer in the Post Office Tower in the 1960s. The scientist who shows it to Dodo remarks "this may not be the biggest computer, but it is probably the most advanced", the computer is able to hypnotise people, it makes the humans build the most ridiculous Tin Can Robot weapons, it has prominently mounted tape reels, someone describes it as 'a machine that can think!' as computers were a new concept, it makes tape grinding and spool noises and prints out ticker tape, and it also uses 60s beliefs of what the Internet would be like (being able to communicate with computers all over the world by literally calling them up with telephones)... even the non-standard title text is very, very dated. On the bright side, it does take place in 1960s London, so the theme is appropriate.
That '70s Show once had Red imagining what the future would be like, and it was filled with tongue-in-cheek Zeerust, such as jumpsuits and jet packs. The joke was that he imagined all that stuff would be available in the far-off year of... 1997. The episode first aired in 1999.
Part of Firefly's charm is how a lot of the "future tech" weapons look like old fashioned guns. This is exemplified in the episode Trash, where the high-tech laser gun shown looks like an oversized Star Wars blaster. Well, it's a Space Western.
Red Dwarf had this quite a bit. Examples included the Cat's "cutting edge", very 90's fashion sense, and an episode where the crew watched triangular video tapes. This was amusingly lampshaded in the 2009 Reunion Show "Back to Earth", in which Kryten points out that DVDs became obsolete because everyone kept losing them. Apparently videotapes are "too big to lose." The basic plot of Timeslides hinges on the fact photographs are created using a chemical process that involves developing fluid.
UFO is from 1970 and takes place in 1980, but has very little in common with the real 80's.
The design of basically everything in the series practically screams "late 1960's" or "late 1960's vision of the future", making it an orgy in Zeerust.
In the episode "Court Martial" a computerized encoding device uses handwritten data entry, but it's actually a security precaution. Handwriting samples of personnel authorised to use the device are stored in its memory, and compared against the message written on the input card.
Needing to find non-military people in person or by word of mouth is definite Zeerust in a modern world where it's impossible to avoid overhearing at least one "where are you?" cell phone call a day. Especially since both cell phone-equivalent technology and telepathy (which would make the question completely moot) were available to at least the main characters throughout the run of the series.
Apparently, the wrist-mounted cell-phone-like communicators ubiquitous among the main characters were a classified military technology and unavailable to the general public.
One episode featured an individual known as a 'Vicker' whose job it was to record events (including thoughts and experiences transmitted telepathically) onto a data crystal inserted directly into a port in his brain. While the technology itself is plausible by the 23rd century, 'Vicker' was explained as a phonetic pronunciation of 'VCR', a recording technology that would become obsolete less than five years after the series made its first run.
Multiple characters are shown reading Universe Today, a print newspaper. Although canon states that readers can select articles of interest and print the paper on demand, changes in the newspaper industry and the advent of portable e-readers since the series aired mean that the appearance of an actual newspaper in the series is starting to look almost quaint even by today's standards.
So when was the last time your computer (or even your television) showed you static "snow" when the signal dropped? Happens on Babylon 5 all the time. For that matter, while they do have touch screens, the interfaces are ridiculously blocky, over-sized and colorful, almost looking like a child's computer game from the 80's. This is most prominently on display in the fourth-season finale The Deconstruction of Falling Stars, nearly the entirety of which is actually a series of recordings being watched by a man thousands of years in the future. The GUI of his recording program looks horrifically tied to the early 90's.
An episode of Fraggle Rock has the inventor Doc trying to develop a radio that can get signals from the other side of the world. You just know Jim Henson would have loved what the Internet can do.
Disney's 1988 mini-series/failed pilot Earth Star Voyager. Not surprisingly, computer technology and graphics have taken a giant leap backward by 2088. The future looks like it was designed by the same engineers who built EPCOT Center's Future World, which itself is becoming dated.
Watching Max Headroom in The Eighties we all thought to ourselves, "Shit this looks futuristic!" Nowadays when we watch it we think, "Shit this looks 80's!" The video technology, the graphics, the clearly 80's look of everything (well, it was the trope namer for Twenty Minutes into the Future). On the other hand, some of its "predictions" are more accurate than those of most other fiction of the time: it seemed to know about the upcoming internet epidemic, the only difference being that exactly the same thing was done with computers instead of TV sets.
In Earth 2 the audience gets to see inside the cockpit of the starship that will take the colonists to their new home. It's a very modern glass cockpit with displays everywhere, but they are all heavy bulky CRTs.
Thunderbirds is supposed to be set in the year 2065, 100 years in the future according to the time of production. The Thunderbird vehicles themselves, particularly 1 and 2, are based on aircraft and prototypes that were state-of-the-art at the time the series was produced; TB 1 on the MiG 19 and 21, along with a series of X-planes, and 2 on experimental lifting-body aircraft. And of course everything high-tech has clicky panels, big shiny microphones and chrome-plated-chrome. Things like internet, mobile phones, Ipads etc. are not present at all in the futuristic world of the Thunderbirds.
Playboy's Inside Out was filmed in 1991 and had several stories based in the future, including:
Leda, a story about a woman serving out her sentence on a spacecraft. Despite having the ability to travel in space, the ship's computer used CRT screens to talk to her and only did so through text.
My Cyberian Rhapsody had a man rent a cybersex machine with everything being put on a floppy disc.
The Futuristic Zone from The Crystal Maze has many early Nineties ideas of future technology, with good doses of Cyberpunk and Used Future, and lacking many of the technological advancements made since then. Fluorescent tube lighting, CRT screens and seven-segment displays abound, along with a talking computer.
The original run of The Twilight Zone had a few episodes about space travel which had this mixed in with then-current tech. Episode "Third from the Sun" contained a shapely rotary phone and a spaceship that navigated with a suspended model of itself (as if to show orientation).
Donald Fagen's song "I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)" deliberately invokes Zeerust, depicting a world where the US definitively won the space race, computers are benevolent overlords, and everyone wears spandex jackets in a world with perfect climate control.
That entire album (1982's The Nightfly) is full of cultural Zeerust, being a combination homage and Affectionate Parody of the optimism of the 1950s and early 1960s (albeit one leavened with hints of the darker developments just around the corner). From the liner notes:
Note: The songs on this album represent certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight and build. - D.F.
Fagen's 1993 album, Kamakiriad, continues to invoke this trope intentionally. It is set Twenty Minutes into the Future, but the album art implies that this is 1999 as imagined from 1959. The inlay notes begin:
Kamakiriad is an album of eight related songs. The literal action takes place a few years in the future, near the millennium.
In the first song, "Trans-Island Skyway", the narrator tells us he is about to embark on a journey in his new dream-car, a custom-tooled Kamakiri. It's built for the new century: steam-driven, with a self-contained vegetable garden and a radio link with the Tripstar routing satellite.
The video for The Postal Service's We Will Become Silhouettes is set in a 1950's style household. Except, of course, they didn't have synthesizers in that era. Why, you ask? the video takes place After the End.
In an in-music example, Animusic's "Future Retro" has futuristic instruments, but retro tunes.
Cyberpunk: A game released in the late '80s/early '90s (first edition was released in '88, second in '90) hilariously depicts "cellular cyberdecks" as massive, expensive, and unwieldy. While taking place about ten years from now. The stats for the cyberdecks were listed in real life units: one of the top-of-the-line cyberdecks had a massive 256 MB of RAM and ran at a blazing 100 MHz.
Also, according to the depictions in the game material, the most popular kind of music in the 2010s/2020s is basically an updated version 80s hair metal with cyberpunk-themed lyrics. One of the eight character classes you can choose from is that of a rebellious rock musician called "rockerboy". The game writers must've thought rap and electronic music were just passing fads, as they are not mentioned.
In ICE's 1990's 'Cyberspace' it is noted that by 2090 some portable phones are small enough to fit into a pocket.
In the original Traveller ship's computers start at one ton for the most basic, 2 program model. If you pay extra you can have an optical backup device. Later versions make it clearer that "tons" are neither a weight nor mass measurement for ship sizes, but a volume measurement, that of liquid hydrogen. This means your 1-ton ship's computer has a volume of a bit over fourteen cubic meters ... a cube almost two and a half meters on a side. Presumably this includes all the control wiring and interface hardware (keyboards, screens, servo motors to actually control the ship, etc.) and not just the computer proper, but still.
Shadowrun: This is the case with the entire first three editions of the game. Since the game was set Twenty Minutes into the Future, every few years they would need to reboot the game to keep ahead of growing technology. For the hacker type class, the original series had deckers that would have to literally plug a wire into the back of their head to go virtual. In the most modern edition everyone has augmented-reality goggles or a wi-fi computer in their head. Many fans, however, are not as happy with this change however, as the zeerust present in the original gave it its cyberpunk charm.
The original Main Book for Rifts lists an item called the PC-3000 Hand-Held Computer. It's about the size of a Nintendo DS Lite. It uses one inch disks, has a Dual drive system, and a hard memory of 16 megabytes, and has no sound capabilities. Later versions avert this by saying that the player should assume that it's more powerful than whatever's currently available on the market.
Paranoia was designed to invoke this on purpose, to help make the end date of our civilization and the rise of Alpha Complex unclear. Buildings, pills and even the swooshing doors all invoke Zeerust, and then we get talk of cloning and genetics that suggests that mankind was actually Twenty Minutes into the Future when the apocalypse happened.
More like twenty minutes into the past, given Friend Computer's obsession with "commies". There's one adventure in which the commies involved are of the Chinese variety, but for the most part they're pretty clearly intended to be the Cold War Soviet type. Although this is a product of the game's origin (first published in 1984), it's easily future-proofed by the idea that the Computer has formed the wrong impression from its patchy historical records.
Narrowly averted by Trinity, set in the 22nd century. Computers in that RPG are only one step under true AI, are small enough to fit in a pocket, and are presumed to have most of the capacities of 2011 smartphones. The smallest unit of memory described is the "bloc", able to hold "a large library". The only notable limit on what computers can do is the "Comm Crunch", which states that cellular bandwidth is in very short supply (so the GM can arbitrarily throttle the PCs' communications, as needed by the plot). This seems eerily prescient for a game from the 90s! Zeerust only arises in the presumption that computers would still have keyboards, would be strapped to your forearm, and would be called "computers" not "phones".
Dark Conspiracy, based off of Twilight 2000, was set similar to this. During the Greater Depression most of the technology and design went back to the fifties, unless you were a corporation, or the government, in which case it was set back to the early '90s. Excluding the invading aliens, who used brain tissue of organisms fitted with advanced computer chips.
In Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the downloadable "Nuketown 2025" map was redesigned from its original 1950's aesthetic to Zeerust incarnate.
Parodied in SNK's Metal Slug series, which takes place in a near future in which nearly all "futuristic" tech is intentional Zeerust, such as land battleships or pulp robots. In a related note, almost all of the "contemporary" tech is inexplicably World War II-era.
The Fallout series of RPGsembodies zeerust. Fallout is set in an Alternate History in which the Cold War was between the US and China, and ended in nuclear war. The pre-war USA was a Jetsons-esque future where it's the Fifties, but with ray guns, atomic cars and domestic robots. All computers have monochromatic monitors and run on vacuum tubes instead of transistors.
Wasteland, a nearly-forgotten game of The Eighties and the inspiration for Fallout, took place In The Distant Future Of... 1995, when the Cold War (oops!) reaches a breaking point and everybody gets nuked. Only a small portion of Nevada survives. So far as you know, anyway, since the precipitating event that started the nukes flying was the sudden, simultaneous and unexplained destruction of all communications satelites. While standard equipment is somewhere around the level of the Kalashnikov (the "AK-97," to be specific, a 50th anniversary update of the classic) you eventually wind up carrying around portable nuclear batteries to power your handheld ion cannons.
Wasteland 2 splits the difference between the two through the simple means of having the same vision of the future as the original game (with some minor changes to accommodate the better graphics), comically exaggerated near-future apocalypse as seen from the late 80s, but being made in the early 2010s instead of the late 1980s, so it is deliberately retro-Zeerusty like Fallout.
In the BioShock series, the city of Rapture is all designed in a 1940s Art Deco style, somewhat behind the times even by 1960 when the game takes place. Even ignoring the ban on contact with the surface (outside of personally-invited new arrivals) and the unjustifiable expense of remodeling an underwater city, the "space age" designs of the '50s would have been a poor fit anyway.
The Red Alert series loves this trope more than life itself, especially with the Soviet side.
The game Stubbs the Zombie takes place in the 1950's with what they believe will be futuristic technology. There are lots of flying cars, simplistic robots with bare-bones AI but no e-mail, Internet, etc. The game developers make the game seem futuristic... for the 1950's.
The original Contra, being a Rambo/Commando/Alien pastiche, stars a pair of musclebound commandos fighting against an alien army in the jungle. The game is set in the year 2633 according to the Japanese canon, but despite the presence of improbable weapons and bases, there's no real reason to suspect that the game is actually set in the future. Because of this, the localization actually claimed that the game was actually set in the present when they brought it to America. This continued until they decided to keep the futuristic setting for Contra III and even then the city where the game starts, as well as the car in the first level, looks late 80's - early 90's.
Thought it might not be as obvious as some of the above example, Mass Effect is an intentional version of this trope. The zeerust it evokes is not 1930s, 40s, or 50s, but rather 1970s and 1980s science fiction. The general colour palate is somewhere between A New Hope and Blade Runner. Take, for example, holographic displays in eye-killing 1980 orange monochrome, or luminous pink as a viable colour for armour.
Street Fighter 2010 (no real relation to the other series) predicted that in twenty years, martial artists will be fighting aliens using performance-enhancing cybernetic suits and interdimensional warp gates. The year 2010 has come and there are still no cyborgs, no aliens, and interplanetary travel is nowhere near perfect yet.
2097/XL is a futuristic racing game released in 1997 and set a hundred years in the future. It made a serious effort to create a consistent future aesthetic◊ with its Designers Republic branding and licensed underground soundtrack, but unfortunately it was released on the verge of the minimalist iPod pastel style. The rounded 'computer' Fonts, bright primary colours and segmented digital displays now seem rather dated.
In the Back to the Future adventure games, Marty finds himself at a science expo in 1931. The expo predicts that, fifty years from then, there will be machines that make artificial rain and sun, and vast underground cities. Marty, from fifty-five years later (and had... er, will have seen even further into the future in the movies) snarks that he hasn't been to that time period yet.
Aerobiz: Futuristic predictions of huge, 1000-passenger airliners and supersonic airliners traversing the globe seem almost quaint for someone who picks up the game now.
Team Fortress 2 has a bit of this in its level design, such as the mysterious Doomsday Device featured in Nucleus and the giant missile launcher in Gravelpit.
Towards the end of Portal, the player character gets a chance to visit some of the observation rooms seen in earlier stages. The computers at Aperture Science appear to be at approximately the PC/XT or PC/AT level, right down to having monochrome (amber) displays. In a facility capable of building the portal gun, and GLaDOS.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon features an unusually recent source period of futurism. The 80s/90s Cyberpunk action movie setting is replete with props that are then-modern technology with LEDs and neon lights stuck on, bogus computer Techno Babble, and seemingly post-processing added lasers. The cutscenes are meta-fictional by way of low resolution pixel art as was standard in video games made in that era.
Sometimes, characters in Electric Wonderland use technology that feels dated even for the year of the respective comic's release. The cartoonist reportedly hopes that this will prevent references that will date in the future from sticking out.
Zeerustian predictions of the future are savagely parodied in this film short. While the narration sounds like a 1950's expert beaming about the coming utopia brought about by our futuristic technology, the actual video depicts a lower middle class couple from the actual year 2000, who seem none too impressed with the megamalls, bad traffic, crappy service jobs and life-extending but not life-enhancing medicine which comprise their world.
Muppet Babies parodied this, when Baby Piggy claimed that the future would be "just like now, only more... futurely!"
Any of the old cartoons featuring "The House Of Tomorrow", which typically has, say, a pair of robotic hands manually scrubbing, rinsing, and drying dishes, instead of a dishwasher.
Jimmy Neutron is set in the Zeerust-styled town of Retroville, and Jimmy's futuristic inventions have a charming Buck Rogers quality about them. And in a strange contrast, the entire show is pretty modern 3D animation. So you get a Buck Rogers-esque mind control device that looks remarkably realistic, even though it appears to be a toy. In retrospect (no pun intended), he probably intended it that way.
Lampshaded one time when Jimmy invented a robot version of his mom while she was away, and later commenting that she was replaced by some psycho robot with a hideous, 1950shairdo.
Many episodes of Futurama parodied this by having futuristic technology that was already outdated in some way, such as interactive cinemas with monochrome newsreels. And then making them holographic. The Jetsons-style "floating hoops around everything and everyone" is considered retro in the manner of a nostalgia cafe or disco.
Bender: "Is food finally in pill form? What about pills? Are they in food form?"
It's worth noting that the series took its name from an exhibit at the 1939 New York World Fair, those fairs being notorious real life examples of this trope.
Futurama also plays this trope straight in that many episodes feature 'futuristic' takeoffs on then-current technology, which start looking unironically oudated over time. A 2000 episode about the Internet includes a joke about it took Prof. Farnsworth years to logon to AOL (AOL!), for example. "Kidnappster" (a pun on Napster.com) is another good one - by the time "I Dated a Robot" (the episode featuring Kidnappster) aired, Napster itself was on its last legs, having endured a lawsuit from the government over copyright violations (it would shut its doors later that year). The nature of Internet file-sharing was already starting to evolve beyond Napster by this point.
The modern day Venture compound in The Venture Bros. is practically built on Zeerust, from the X-1 (nuclear powered superjet) to the punch card sleeping beds, to the moving walkways, etc...
The Transformers: The Movie and the third and fourth series were set in the far-off year of 2005. The new characters all have 80s future-y alt-modes, although this can be excused as the Cybertronians having alien designs (why robots would transform into vehicles for people to drive is beside the point). The fact that Soundwave and Blaster still transform into cassette players, not to mention the fact that the Cybertronian personalities can be stored on five-and-a-half-inch floppy disks makes this trope very clear. Daniel Witwicky's outfit (a jumpsuit with his initials on it) falls right into Zeerust, too.
Historical Zeerust - Terry's friend is helping him study for a history test in Batman Beyond. She mentions "Come on. Clinton was the fun one, then came the boring one...", ignorant of the fact that the next president would go on to be called many, many, many things, but boring is certainly not one of them. You can assume they believed Al Gore would be elected.
In addition, while the show correctly predicted the prevalence of cell phones in the future, the phones themselves look more like cell phones from the late 90s when the show was made. The creators even admit in one episode's commentary that they did not predict how cell phones would shrink. If it helps any, you can think of them as satellite phones (which have shrunk, but not nearly as much) instead. This goes double when they somehow continue to work at the bottom of those vast glass-and-steel canyons where the signal from an ordinary tower would be almost indistinguishable from background radiation.
Additionally the prevalence of disk-based memory storage. Granted that USB Flash drives were just invented as the show was in production, only a few high-end memory 'cubes' were seen.
While we are in the DCAU, the idea of zeerust was deconstructed in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm; in a flashback, Bruce and Andrea are shown having a wonderful time visiting the Gotham World's Fair, with its lively and optimistic view of the future with standard things such as robot butlers. When the fair is revisited in the present, it is in ruins, seemingly paralleling Bruce and Andrea's future, and serves as the final battleground for the two former lovers and the Joker.
There's plenty of this in Ruby-Spears' Mega Man; despite taking place in at least 2010 (it's never outright stated, but the games give us a pretty good idea), the fashions and much of the technology are clearly 90s. Corded phones and phone booths. However, the robots are pretty damned advanced.
My Life as a Teenage Robot uses a visual style akin to pie-eyed classic toons and is set in a near-future setting with very Zeerust aesthetics.
The Fairly OddParents had an episode that actually lampshaded this trope called "Future Lost", in which Timmy discovers one of his father's old sci-fi comic books that supposedly takes place in the "far off" future of the year 2000. Timmy notes that what's in the book is very different than the real early twenty first century. He then makes a wish making the Zee Rust world of that book come to life.
Tomorrowland at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, originally conceived in 1955 as a portrayal of life in 1986, which over the years has become about half-Zeerust and half-rides-based-on-Sci-Fi-Disney-properties, such as Lilo and Stitch and Buzz Lightyear. Space Mountain doesn't quite fall into either, yet.
Of particular note was Monsanto's House of the Future in Disneyland, which featured ultra-futuristic elements like plastics, a microwave oven, and a flatscreen television. While the House soon faded into Zeerust, one element remained steadfastly resistant to progress: when Disneyland decided to demolish the House, wrecking balls just bounced off the sturdy plastic construction. They had to use hacksaws and blowtorches to dismantle it.
The Zeerust in Tomorrowland is mostly deliberate nowadays— "The future that never was is finally here!" In 1994 Disneyland redesigned Tomorrowland to deliberately go "Retro-Future" ... that is, they stopped even trying to be prophetic and went for the future-as-envisioned-by-Jules-Verne look (essentially, part steampunk and part art deco). A notable exception is the Carousel of Progress, which touts a "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" that's at least a decade out-of-date despite Disney's efforts. Carousel of Progress is supposed to showcase "cutting edge" stuff in its last scene... the last minor tweak in 2010 finally added a flat screen TV to a scene written in 1994.
Unfortunately, the Carousel of Progress appeared to have been half designed by advertisers who wanted to reach Disney's paying customers. Some of the "features" included a long car commercial that people would actually wait in line to see becasue the screens were mounted on something that looked like motorcycle handlebars attached to a chair that turned and swivelled. Not surprisingly, many of the viewers would hop off the swivelling chairs as soon as they realized the commercial wasn't an introduction, but was actually the feature. That is exactly what it was - an ad for General Electric at the New York World's Fair.
EPCOT has been sliding toward this as well, to the point that the original meaning of the name (Experimental Prototype Community Of Technology) and Walt Disney's original conception of EPCOT as a genuine "city of the future" are no longer officially acknowledged by the Disney corporation. The original scale model of the EPCOT city plan can now be found as a generic "vision of the future" seen at one of the brief stops on the Tomorrowland Peoplemover ride in the Magic Kingdom.
Said park also had an attraction called "Horizons" depicting future space and ocean colonization and desert agriculture. Somehow, nearly everything else looked incredibly dated within a decade, including a building that looked straight out of Buck Rogers. Opened in 1983, closed in 1999. The same ride had a room nostalgically presenting the "The Future of the Fifties" as if it were a humorous departure from the sensible, realistic depictions in the rest of the attraction, demonstrating awareness of this trope while still lacking self-awareness of it.
"Horizons" was actually built as an sequel to General Electrics' Carousel of Progress having the same sponsor. the issue was keeping the ride section current and not jarring when you exited in the exhibit space it also had an choose your own ending feature where you could enter the Zeerust future of your choice. that would later show up in Spaceship Earth in an updated form.
The current version of Spaceship Earth allows guests to vote an animated Zeerust future to ride through a series of questions and an onride photo system puts their faces onto the cartoon bodies.
Apparently, to Mr. Rosewater, "futuristic" means "shaped like a 1950s CRT TV frame". For the quasi-medieval MtG, that is pretty amazingly prescient.
Dippin' Dots, a dessert made from liquid-nitrogen-cooled beads of ice cream and mostly sold at amusement parks, has been marketed as "The Ice Cream of the Future" since 1987. A 2008 Onion article parodied the slogan in an article where a time traveler with 1950s fashion sense arrives in the present day to report to the people of the world that, in the 22nd century, everybody eats Dippin' Dots and "real" ice cream is unknown. (Oh, and 99% of the population has AIDS and we're all slaves to the machines.)
In November of 2011, Dippin' Dots filed for bankruptcy. Though, to be fair, it was Chapter 11 which means it could come back (as opposed to Chapter 7 "liquidation" bankruptcy)
1980 Renault Fuego. Cutting edge then. Not so much now◊.
The Lamborghini Countach. Now the earlier Miura and 4-door Espada look more modern. Even worse with the eighties versions with their huge wings and flared arches that make them look less sophisticated since newer cars don't really need giant spoilers.
The DeLorean probably belongs here too. Not helped by the fact that it was a dressed-up Lotus Esprit — a car that has aged quite well.
While we're on cars, pretty much every American car from the mid-to-late '50s. They're loved as classics for that exuberance now, but when they first fell out of fashion, they fell even harder than the '80s examples listed above. The fact that all that chrome was attached with bolts to holes drilled into the fenders didn't help matters — the trim sporadically fell off when the holes rusted out, often before the car was even ten years old.
Split-deckbuseswith toilets were cutting edge when they appeared in The Fifties. Nowadays the advancements in suspension, monocoque bodywork and glazed area design allow the same advantages (baggage area below floor, toilet, 360-degree vision) in much plainer looking and more efficient box-shapes.
While on the subject of trains, Washington, DC's Metrorail system almost certainly counts. It was a huge step forward when it opened in 1976, but its decor has changed surprisingly little since, and the elaborate automatic train control system has started to show its seams (the deadly crash that happened on the Red Line in 2009 has been blamed on failures in that system). Due to budget and time constraints, there are still some 1000-series cars in service, despite being over 30 years old and not having had a major overhaul since the 1990s; they're the ones with the disco-fabulous red/orange/beige interiors.
PEOPLExpress. Yes kids, mauve and orange stripes were once the cutting edge.
Southwest Airlines embraces their original livery's Zeerust-ness by keeping several planes in rotation with the old color scheme. And like all non-white based liveries, their current Blue/Red/Yellow version will someday be Zeerust. Any airline whose planes used to be chrome-colored also suffer Zeerust. Continental was the last American airline to hold out on that scheme.
Also along the same lines, many films used Pan American airlines in their vision of the future... either showing Pan Am Space Travel, or something similar. A fact that's worth much amusement now that Pan Am not only fell from grace as the world's airline, but out of existence altogether.
The Concorde SST was once expected to replace subsonic long-distance airliners altogether. Between safety issues, limited capacity, excessive operating costs, and noise-pollution statutes, it's unlikely that regular supersonic passenger flights will resume until there are space colonies to fly to.
Pan Am's Worldport terminal at JFK Airport looks like any other "futuristic" structure designed and built in the 1960s. The structure's architecture is famous for its large flying saucer shaped roof that suspends over the terminal. After Pan Am collapsed in 1991, the terminal was acquired by Delta Airlines and used through May 2013 when it was demolished for more plane parking.
TWA's Flight Center at JFK was all Futuristic/Googie design and cutting edge technology when it was built in The Sixties, but was woefully outdated by the time TWA started going downhill in the late 80s.
The Aptera Typ-1◊, a new hybrid car that wouldn't look out of place on The Jetsons. It's either awesome on top of awesome, or utterly preposterous. You want one. And a jetpack.
The infamous Xanadu houses, which were supposed to the "the house of the future". Built in the early 80s as automated homes and tourist attractions, their technology rapidly dated and the last of them closed up a mere ten years later.
The Landmark Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas was a resort built in the 1960s with a "futuristic" architecture inspired by the Seattle Space Needle. When the resort opened in 1969; The tower was one of the tallest structures in the city. The resort operated until 1990 and was closed due to economic issues and because it could not keep up with newer and larger resorts that were dwarfing the tower. The Landmark was demolished in 1995.
The "Whomobile" from Doctor Who. This was written into two episodes of the series, but was actually Jon Pertwee's personal car.
There's some adorable Zeerust in this 30s newsreel feature of what clothes in the year 2000 will be like ("Oh swish!"). Curiously, they weren't wholly wrong about portable phones or radio. Or women wearing pants. That said, they were a bit early to the resurgence of mustaches and beards on men.
This 1968 article about life in 2008 contains some fine, typical Zeerust: automated cars that hit 250mph on smooth plastic roads, all controlled by an infallible computer that has never caused an accident; cities covered by domes that keep them evenly climatized yearlong; moving sidewalks everywhere; intercontinental passenger rockets; four hour work days; housework is done by robots; and a lot more wacky stuff.
Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House, a cheap, energy-efficient mass-produced portable home that was never produced because it was butt-ugly. And the Dymaxion car, as fuel-efficient as a modern car at a time when massive gas-guzzling road-boats were the norm, easier to park, and no one bought it because its aerodynamic body looked like a fish on wheels.
People do sometimes willingly buy or build houses at least as ugly as that. Fuller (in the introduction to Grunch of Giants) said the Dymaxion House went nowhere because building codes effectively made prefab impossible.
While building codes have changed to make frefabs more than possible in most places, a home that's fundamentally inextensible (it's really hard to add an extension to a geodesic dome, even during the design phase) and has loads of unusable space (almost everything you might want to put into a room has a square footprint, which makes for a lot of wasted space against curved walls) is a hard sell at best.
It's not that nobody bought the car- it never even went to production. It turns out that, in addition to being very aerodynamic, the (three-wheeled) Dymaxion was also very top-heavy and unstable. Development was tabled after the prototype killed a test driver.
The Fascination concept car. First was proposed to use a "boilerless steam engine"(the closest thing to which is a hydrogen fuel cell), then an "electromagnetic association engine" (pure pie-in-the-sky vaporware).
This video made in the '50s shows the highway system of the future to have things like heated roads to melt ice, prefabricated bridges, self guiding cars with thermal imaging, truck trains consisting of store shelving, vehicle elevators, underground roadways, and as it proceeds further from reality: floating cars that can follow roads that turn upside down for no reason. They did certainly get urban sprawl right, though.
Any New Town generally, and the town of Zeerust in South Africa, which inspired the Trope Namer, in particular. While not actually a New Town, it was heavily expanded in the 1960's under the old Apartheid Government as an example of how wonderful the Republic of South Africa was (for White South Africans). Now looks a bit run down and odd in places, like most New Towns.
Milton Keynes, the first British New Town prototype, is notable for assuming that everyone would have a car and that fussy old-fashioned stuff like railways would be obsolete. The 1973 oil crisis and mounting evidence of man-made climate change put paid to that vision of the future, just barely too late to revise the plans.
Brasília, the capital city of Brazil, opened in 1960 and designed by Oscar Niemeyer, is a perfect example of Zeerust. Like another planned capital, Canberra, it has some interesting buildings but was built on a scale that assumed everybody would be driving a car. Looking back from a world where unlimited car usage is seen as a bit unneccesary Brasilia and Canberra seem far too overscaled and impersonal.
UNO-City in Vienna makes a similar impression to viewers. Like most planned towns and districts of the 1960s and 1970s, it looks devoid of life. The planned structures both in the West and the Communist Bloc were usually built on empty spaces, rising straightly from the ground, which look strange to people accustomed for centuries with cramped buildings within walking distance of each other.
Various 1960's rail transport vehicles such as the Budd Metroliner, UAC Turbo Train and US DoT State of the Art Cars in the USA and the 1970s design ER-200 in Russia exhibit this trope. While decades later the surviving vehicles from this era are considered either unremarkable or terribly dated (depending on their level of rehabilitation) at the time they were the living embodiment of the future. In the 1960s most rail vehicles dated from the 1930's and exhibited lackluster performance, high levels of noise, a bumpy ride, concrete floors, wicker seats, riveted carbon steel bodies and very little in the way of climate control. Then came along new vehicles built from shiny stainless steel or aluminum that traveled at twice the speed, with twice the acceleration and featured fully climate controlled interiors with plush synthetic materials and florescent lighting. When one of these new trains pulled up it would have been little different for someone at the time to have stepped on board some sort of flying saucer. Sealing the deal were intentional design elements to mimic the then new Jet Airliners.
The State of the Art Cars best embody this trope as they were specifically designed to be futuristic as to promote to the general public what their transit systems could be like with a little funding. The carpeted, pleather and plastic wood interior really didn't age well.
Communist Eastern European governments adopted designs based on very clean lines and very hard-wearing materials like plastic-wood for public services like mass transit, buses and hospitals. By the 1980s they were not only out of fashion, but also looked horrible due to wear and tear.
Terminal 1 of the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
Dulles International Airport◊ outside Washington, D.C. No disrespect to Eero Saarinen's memory intended. It's a beautiful design to this day, but it's ... very 1958.
The Hong Kong Police and Judiciary still uses 1.44MB floppy disks for some documents, new governmental computer installations in mid 2011 still have to come with an external floppy drive to read these. The Legco members also recieved floppy disks before an environmental department pollicy address.
The Austrian made, 1970ies Assaultrifle Steyr AUG, while looking rather futuristic with it's plastic housing and Bullpup settup then, looks about as old as it is today.
Steampunk in general is founded on the notion of "what's wrong with a little Zeerust, anyway?" Most of the fashion sensibilities are neo-Victorian, and the tech is Victorian-era science fiction turned Up to Eleven on the Crazy Awesome dial.
Geodesic domes. For a while in the early 1970s it was thought that these would BE! the architecture! of! The Future! Stewart Brand, an enthusiastic advocate of them at the time, explains in How Buildings Learn why they were not: they're actually wasteful of building materials (cutting equilateral triangles out of rectangular sheets of plywood), they weren't space-efficient (very hard to subdivide internally and with far too much wasted space above head height), they're by nature inexpandable (if the dome isn't big enough you have to build something onto it), and no matter what anyone did, they leaked like the upturned sieves they resembled. As Brand admits, "When my generation outgrew the domes, we simply left them empty, like hatchlings leaving their eggshells."
North Korea has a state museum of technological wonders like microwave ovens and cell phones from the 90's. Considering that the cities look like South Korean cities in the 60's, and the rest of the nation is dominated by Victorian era architecture, this isn't that surprising.
A film made by the British GPO in the '60s (back when the Post Office was in charge of the telephone network!) entitled Telecommunications Services For The 1990s makes a lot of interesting predictions about future developments... such as terminals (with wood panelling!) which would have high resolution colour video (over a decade too soon), 'computer services' that look remarkably like Prestel (because of course there would be no home computers and emerging internet) and answering machines based on standard Compact Cassettes (very '80s)! Not to mention the questionablenote i.e. possibly dangerous ultraviolet light system for copying documents onto photosensitive paper (wot no fax machines?), the user ID cards, and the fact they're still wearing '60s fashions.
A data service incorporated into TV signals and looking like Prestel makes sense. It was developed by the British GPO in only the decade after the film was made. They may well have used the same development materials as a template for how it should look. Wood (or faux wood) paneling was used on some home electronics in the 70's as well (most memorably, on the original Atari 2600 console).
This film describing the Billingham Forum sports and leisure complex, and the rest of the town centre in Billingham, a small town in North East England. Listen to the commentary describe how modern and forward-thinking the town centre supposedly is. Apart from the obvious postwar ideas of modernism (and the fact that one snide YouTube commenter on another video likened it to a tourist attraction for those nostalgic for Honecker's East Germany), anyone who knows Billingham will know how abandoned and run-down it has become, how parts of what you see in the video (including the nightclub) have been knocked down, and the Forum itself has undergone a fairly substantial makeover in recent years.