Futures alternatives can often become obsolete, lost in the landfills, forgotten or replaced by the next ‘new’ thing. However, on that rare occasion you come across an artifact that reveals a lost future, they can be fantastic entrance points for teaching and understanding the inner workings of futures.
Here is a prime example. The Sprites’ Adventures on Earth is a book that was part of Texas Instruments Magic Wand Speaking Series. In this series (initiated in 1982), children were supposed to be able to read and experience the printed word all by themselves using a machine that they would pass over barcodes printed in the book and then the machine, or the Magic Wand Speaking Reader, would read the worlds out loud!
The DataMath Calculator Museum shows a great catalogue of information about the instrument and technology used to read these books.
The funny thing is, this book now has no corresponding Magic Wand to read the barcodes. Luckily, some genius printed the words above most of the barcodes, so you can still read the book outloud. When I read this book to children, they are always curious, asking “how do you know how to read those little lines?” It prompted me to imagine: what if we had learned how to read barcode without the use of a machine? What if no words were printed above the text, how would we access this knowledge?
Not only do preserved futures like this book cull up questions for adults, it also can help prompt questions to children and to develop futures alternatives literacy. “What would it be like if we knew how to read barcodes?” “What other languages could we invent to read books?” “Do you wish this future was still happening?” “What tool would you make to help read books to children who can’t read yet?” “Why do you think this future didn’t last?”