Tuning into the future

Matthew White

The technology dreamed up in the cartoons we loved as kids has been transformed into many common objects used in our everyday lives.

There was a not-so-long-ago time when the VHS player was the entertainment king of our families’ living rooms. While its bulky tapes were little more than a remixed version of cassette-tape technology, it claimed its crown by virtue of defeating the Betamax threat.

And, as we frustratingly smashed the tracking button on our player’s remote control to get ride of those hazy lines on the TV, the cartoons we had just finished projected the future into our imaginations.

Instead of dealing with the sloppiness of an 800-foot-long oxide-coated tape wound inside a plastic box, the “Real American Heroes” in the G.I. Joe cartoons stored covert information on mini-discs. Oh, how lucky they were, some of us must have thought to ourselves at the time. Of course, the real thing followed later on – but the Joe’s used it first and it was more cool when they did so.

Perhaps you were a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” fan and really dug those turtle shell communicators. At a time when the closest thing was a cordless telephone, being able to walk all over New York City while talking with your half-shell co-hero must have seemed pretty neat. Of course, the cell phones we use now make the communicators look as modern as the rotary dial phone.

Some of us might have even turned to the “Transformers” when we sought our Saturday morning cartoon fix. While there aren’t large, transforming robots fighting with one another throughout the galaxy, robots are being used to a much, much greater degree than in the 1980s. We have special robots that vacuum the floor, respond to our commands in certain cars and interact with us through voice-driven phone menus. And, that’s leaving out the androids — or even more human-like robots — that scientists are designing to mimic emotions displayed on a human face.

Other shows, such as the “Thundercats”, made use of technology we’re striving to implement today. In the show, the Thundercats used Thunderillium to power their Thundertank. The fuel was (probably) pollutant-free, even if non-renewable. And, of course, it just wouldn’t be right not to mention the Thundercats friendly robot, Screw Loose.

The cartoon that was particularly poised to inspire us to develop our talents and reach for the future was known as “Robotix.” Robotix consisted of 15 six-minute ‘shorts’ that paired creative animation with a real-life set of building toys. The toys included motors, wheels and pincers and enabled the creation of all manner of home-brewed toys.

If all of these things — and more — were driven by the imagination of cartoon script writers, then imagine what kids will have to look forward to tomorrow. Action is not something we have to imagine at all; it’s something we can watch on our television screens.

Matthew White is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].