DG Q&A: PaleoFuture Blogger Matt Novak

Matt Novak Paleofuture blogger

Domed cities, disposable clothes, fashion wired for sound, robot servants, electronic shopping, and, of course,flying cars. Since 2007, Matt Novak's PaleoFuture blog (now supplemented with a popular Twitter feed) has been sharing such past visions of the oh-so-glamorous future, as depicted in old newspaper articles, ads, illustrations, and world's fairs. Here, he shares some thoughts about futurism and nostalgia, along with some favorite images.

DG: How would you describe PaleoFuture—the site and the concept—to someone who'd never seen it?

Matt Novak: The PaleoFuture blog looks at past visions of the future, primarily focusing on 20th century predictions of the American future. Paleofuturism, or more commonly retrofuturism, looks at the predictions of scientists, advertisers, designers, and average people to see what those predictions say about the time in which they were created and how they may have shaped our current times.

DG: How did PaleoFuture come to be?

MN: In 2007 I was taking a writing class that included starting a blog. While most people in the class started blogs about their personal lives I decided that I wasn't very interesting and would write about something else. I started to explore this idea that I had been thinking about since I was a child: how people of the past imagined the future.

Magic Highway Miehana 6 paleofuture
Magic Highway U.S.A. (1958)

DG: What used to be glamorous about the future?

MN: Images of the future are reflections of the time in which they are created. The future was most glamorous at times when this abstract idea of glamour was important to popular culture. The 1950s is considered a golden age of American futurism. The 1950s techno-utopian ideas of progress sometimes appear to be reconciling the shiny plastic future alongside the more traditional ideas of glamour and the American dream.

DG: What are your favorite PaleoFuture images?

Paleofuture chysler solar-powered cars 1958 closer than we think
Closer than You Think (1958): Solar-Powered Cars

MN: My favorite images of retrofuturism often come from a Sunday comic that was syndicated by the Chicago Tribune from 1958 until 1963. [More examples here, here, and here.]

DG: You recently wrote on your Twitter feed that "Nostalgia is not a disease, but a symptom of fear." How do you define nostalgia? Do you have to have experienced something yourself to be nostalgic for it?

GOING TO THE OPERA IN THE YEAR 2000 (1882) paleo future
Going to the Opera in the Year 2000 (1882)

MN: Nostalgia as a symptom of fear is far too broad of an idea, and frankly I regret saying it so matter of factly. There is an important distinction I feel that we should make between personal nostalgia and societal nostalgia. Personal nostalgia is that smell of your first teddy bear or the feeling of your first kiss. Personal nostalgia is a wonderful part of the human experience. But I feel that personal nostalgia is anecdotal and thus dangerous when used as ammunition to describe this desire to return to a "better time." I find that more often than not, the time and place that society is nostalgic for never existed. Romanticizing the past, while perfectly fine when applied individually, can stifle progress.

1939 vanity fair paleofuture bearded 21st century men DG: Is PaleoFuture a nostalgic site? If not, why not?

MN: I do my best to present PaleoFuture as neutrally as possible, though my personal opinions on society, technology, or progress often bleed through. I think many people who visit my site find it to be nostalgic because they're projecting. People often think that even the future used to be better.

DG: You often post mysterious requests on your Twitter feed—advice on finding a book on theme park design or an old robot or jet pack in Los Angeles. What do you do when you're not blogging?

MN: I work for a non-traditional marketing company in Minneapolis called Street Factory Media. We do stuff like this (and by "like this" I mean I cast and managed that stunt). I'm moving to Los Angeles in September and will be working for the same company.

DG: What do you think of the upcoming Tron movie?

MN: Haven't seen it obviously but I'm excited to check it out. I'm generally fine with movie remakes, sequels and prequels. I'm much more of a cinelibertarian than most of my other film nerd friends.

DG: Is there anything glamorous about the future nowadays?

MN: Today? Very little. We're certainly at a low point for futurism at the moment given the amount of apocalypse porn that is being produced (see: Collapse and Countdown to Zero). But as the economy improves I think we'll see many more glamorous and optimistic visions of the future.

DG: What images would be on a PaleoFuture site about 2010 in 2050?

MN: This question is the most clever attempt at making me predict the future that I've seen. But, no dice. I don't know the future and the beautiful thing is that no one else does either.

The DG Dozen

1) How do you define glamour?

Poise and grace. Confidence is the most essential ingredient to glamor.

2) Who or what is your glamorous icon?

Grace Kelly

3) Is glamour a luxury or a necessity?


4) Favorite glamorous movie?

To Catch a Thief. I've always found Grace Kelly to be more glamorous in To Catch a Thief than Rear Window, though I think Rear Window is a far superior movie.

5) What was your most glamorous moment?

I'm not glamorous.

6) Favorite glamorous object (car, accessory, electronic gadget, etc.)?

A snifter of brandy

7) Most glamorous place?

New York City

8) Most glamorous job?


9) Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don't

Bright red lipstick

10) Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized

The sound of breaking glass

11) Can glamour survive?

Yes. It's just cyclical as to whether it's in style or not.

12) Is glamour something you're born with?

The larger question is whether you're born with confidence or not.


1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? Blanchett

2) Paris or Venice? Venice, CA

3) New York or Los Angeles? New York

4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Grace

5) Boots or stilettos? Boots

6) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Deco

7) Jaguar or Astin Martin? Jaguar

8) Champagne or single malt? Single malt.

9) 1960s or 1980s? 60s