What Would A World's Fair Look Like Today?

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Andrew Bennett grew up hearing his mother talk about the 1964 New York World's Fair. In 1984, she took the family to that year's fair in New Orleans. But times had changed: There was nothing there he hadn't already seen on television.

Today would be even worse. It would be all but impossible to re-create the sense of discovery his mother got from the 1964 fair.

"What made it so exotic and extraordinary is a mouse click away now," says Bennett.

There was an exhibit at the 1964 World's Fair that painted a picture of a world where industrial farming took place on the seafloor. Another displayed a device that many would find horrifying today: a machine for cutting down the rain forest to build roads.

A world's fair today would be different, says Paul Saffo, a futurist and Stanford lecturer. While the 1964 visions of the future were filled with unbridled optimism, today's version would be filled with doubt.

He says today's fair would be about questions. Instead of showcasing ways to build roads through the rain forest, the fair would ask: How do we save the forest? How can we preserve the oceans? Are we, as a species, capable of understanding how our minds work?

One way to get people to go to a world's fair today, Saffo says, would be to crowdsource it. Make it like a real-world version of Wikipedia. Today's fair might be a lot like Burning Man.

Bennett says he gets the same jolt from Burning Man that his mom got from the 1964 fair. But she isn't interested in joining him.

"She doesn't like dust," he says. "It's too far away. She doesn't like heat. She doesn't want to be away from my dad. She's got a million excuses."

For Bennett's mother, the World's Fair — the only one that mattered — happened in New York 50 years ago.

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